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Poor first round dooms men’s golf in first spring season tournament

The Kent State men’s golf team turned in its lowest-ranking finish in almost a year to start its spring season at the Hal Williams Collegiate tournament in Mobile, Alabama.

The Flashes had a slow start to the event and finished in 12th place out of 14 teams.

The last time the team finished in 12th or lower was March 26-28, 2023, in the Hootie at Bulls Bay tournament, where the team finished 13th.

“We were pretty excited to get down there, and you work hard to prepare for the event, so it’s obviously disappointing when the guys don’t play well,” coach Jon Mills said. “I’ve always been able to get over this stuff quickly. There are some things they did well, and you have to pull out those things that you need to work on and turn the disappointment into motivation.”

Round 1

The Flashes started the tournament off poorly, as the team ended the first round in last place after an 11-over-par 295 turnout as a team.

Junior Jordan Gilkison and sophomore Ben MacLean were the leaders in the first round for KSU, as both golfers shot a two-over-par 73 in the round.

The three other golfers were not far behind, as redshirt senior Chris Vandette shot a three-over-par 74, sophomore James Newton needed an extra stroke, and redshirt senior Cade Breitenstine was the highest scorer, shooting a five-over-par 76.

Round 2

In round two, the Flashes bounced back, gaining a spot in the rankings.

MacLean had a par performance in the second round, and Newton shot a three-under-par 68.

Newton was still one-over-par on the day and was leading the Flashes in the individual scoring.

Gilkison, Vandette and Breitenstine all shot over par in the second round.

As a team, KSU shot a par 284 in the second round to jump Louisiana.

“You’re mad about how you played, and you are more able to go out and just free up, play better and obviously keep it simple, which is the big thing, especially this time of year,” Mills said about the bounce back in the second round.

Round 3

Kent State continued to climb the rankings, as the team would find itself in 12th place after the end of the round.

Gilkison finished strong, as the golfer shot a three-under-par 68 in the final round, giving him a two-over-par performance in the event.

He was the best scorer for the Flashes.

“He’s been really consistent for us since he’s gotten here,” Mills said. “He’s got a lot of fight in him no matter the situation. He wasn’t playing really well in the first round or two, but he won’t give up – he will always give his best, and it’s really good to have that on the team. Some guys see that and try to do the same thing.”

Newton followed up his under-par showing in the second round with a two-over-par 73 in the third round, giving him a three-over-par overall score for the event.

Newton finished as the second-leading scorer for the team and was playing in his first tournament for the Flashes.

“He didn’t play well in the first round, but being able to shoot three-under after not playing well in the morning shows a lot,” Mills said. “He’s got a great attitude on the golf course. I hope he’s the type of player to be in the lineup every week. He definitely has that potential, but it also comes down to going out and doing it.”

Vandette had an even-par 71 in the final round.

MacLean, who was the second-leading scorer on the team after the second round, followed up with a six-over-par 77 to finish up.

Breitenstine had the same score.

“It was good to see James Newton play well in that second round, and Jordan Gilkison played well in the final round, so you’ll definitely take that,” Mills said. “We still need to get more out of Cade and Chris and Ben. They’ll be the first to tell you that they need to play better.”

In the third round, the team finished with a five-over-par 289, giving the team a 16-over-par 868 overall score and its 12th-ranked finish.

Gilkison (36th) and Newton (41st) finished in the top 50 for individual scores.

Reflection and looking ahead

According to Mills, the biggest struggle the team faced was putting.

“They were playing solid golf and hit the ball well but struggled with the greens,” he said. “It’s not the first time these guys have putt on Bermuda grass, but they definitely had trouble with it. It seemed like our whole team had had the same issues.”

The team had struggled in the event to stay under par, as there were only four rounds of even-par or better — Gilkison, Newton, Vandette and MacLean each had one out of the 15 total rounds that were played for the Flashes.

Looking forward, the team will look to work on this in practice in preparation for the team’s next event.

“We have to look at some of the things that we need to improve on, like putting was a big one,” Mills said. “More importantly, those shorter putts that you need to convert for birdies and the safe pars to keep rounds going — those are the ones that we struggled with. We’re going to spend a lot more time focusing on that.”

KSU will play its next event in Puerto Rico at the Dorado Beach Classic Feb. 25-27.

The event will be hosted by the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

“The course that we’re playing in Puerto Rico is one of those courses where you have to go out and shoot some low scores,” Mills said. “So obviously, to do that, you have to make some putts — that’s the plan.”

Going into the final stretch of the season, Mills would like to see the team turn around and get some wins so the team can qualify for future NCAA tournaments at season’s end.

“I expect these guys to bounce back,” he said. “With a week like this, it’ll hurt us in the ranking, so we need to play flawless golf going forward. We need to start with a win in Puerto Rico. That’s something that we have lacked this past season. It would be nice to go out there and get that, but it will really show how much heart these guys have.”

John Hilber is assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
John Hilber, Reporter
John is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in psychology. This is his second year with the KentWired team as a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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