Arkansas State unrelenting in grabbing early lead at Golfweek Conference Challenge

Courtesy of Arkansas State

Arkansas State unrelenting in grabbing early lead at Golfweek Conference Challenge

College

Arkansas State unrelenting in grabbing early lead at Golfweek Conference Challenge

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Mike Hagen hasn’t set any goals for his squad this season.

In a way, they can be limiting.

“We talked about all that stuff (regarding goals),” said Hagen, Arkansas State’s head coach. “I said, ‘Guys, we’re not going to put number of tournaments we want to win or ranking or a conference championship or getting to regionals. Let’s just go out, bust it every day and where we end up is where we end up at the end of the day.’ ”

That approach paid off Sunday. The Red Wolves opened the Golfweek Conference Challenge in 11-under 277, taking a four-shot lead over the field at the Cedar Rapids Country Club with two rounds to go.

Color Arkansas State unsurprised. Among the most likely candidates for the early lead were UCLA (a top-30 squad last season, a 2017-18 ranking no group in the 16-team field matches), host Iowa and Campbell (who opened the season with a 34-shot victory).

There was also Jacksonville, which made its first NCAA Championship appearance in 2017.

The Dolphins are in second place at 7 under and the Hawkeyes find themselves third at 6 under. (Campbell is solo fifth at 1 under and UCLA sits T-9 at 5 over.)

But nobody could keep up with the Red Wolves on Sunday, and the team is conditioned to believe that can be the norm.

“(Coach) tells us, ‘You can do this. This is nothing special that we’re leading this tournament by a couple of shots, it’s nothing weird,'” said senior Joel Wendin, who sits solo third at 4 under.

Unimportant, though? Hardly.

Arkansas State, which finished last season ranked 79th, opened its 2018-19 campaign with a promising runner-up at the Lone Star Invitational.

With the Golfweek Conference Challenge coming less than a week after the opener and boasting teams from an array of conferences and locales, Hagen knows what a strong showing here could do heading into a two-week break.

“We’ve got an opportunity here, we can carry that momentum over from (the opening) event to make a statement early on in the year and get this thing going early,” Hagen said.

Arkansas State’s early success in Cedar Rapids may not have come without some course knowledge. While Hagen spent 10 years coaching at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, before taking over the Arkansas State job in 2015, he hadn’t been around Cedar Rapids Country Club.

Fortunately, graduate assistant Andrew Huseman has played the layout several times. Hagen in fact had Huseman guide the team through Saturday’s practice round in order to familiarize them with the course.

Huseman, a former Arkansas State and Indian Hills golfer, helped players with potential pin placements and clubbing off the tee.

It was advice well used on Sunday as four players finished the day in the top 10. Wendin closed with eagle for his 4-under round and Julien Sale birdied four of his last seven to jump to a tie for fourth at 3 under. Jakub Bares and Zan Luka Stirn are both T-9 at 2 under.

There isn’t much worth changing at the moment, but there is a goal after all.

“Our mindset is simple, we want to win,” Bares said.

The Red Wolves are on their way, at the moment.

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