Flashes’ golf finishes strong at U.S. Collegiate

Grant Engle

The Kent State men’s golf team rallied to finish the United States Collegiate tied for ninth with a 10-over-par 874.

The U.S. Collegiate, played at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga., featured 12 of the top 40 teams in the country in the tournament’s 14-team field.

Kent State coach Herb Page described the performance as “gutsy, hard-fought” and “a battle.” The team shot a 7-over-par 295 in the first round, but managed a 288 even par in the second round and a 3-over-par 291 in the third round.

“We were just missing a little something,” Page said. “We didn’t start real good, but we hung in there.”

The University of California, Los Angeles and Clemson University finished ahead of the Flashes on Tuesday. UCLA and Clemson were two of the teams that Kent State defeated at the Bank of Tennessee at the Ridges Oct. 14-16.

“It just goes to show you how deep college golf is,” Page said. “We just weren’t as sharp as we were last week.”

Junior Kevin Miller posted his fourth top-15 of the last five tournaments with a 1-under-par 214, good enough to tie him for 10th place. Miller made 42 pars during the 54-hole tournament.

“Overall I was pretty happy with how I played,” Miller said. “It was a pretty steady tournament for me.”

Page praised Miller for his consistent play throughout the season. He mentioned Miller’s play on the last hole of the final round.

“Kevin had a classic par on the 18th today (Tuesday,)” Page said. “He hit a tree, but he didn’t panic, and he got up and down (made par).”

Senior Mackenzie Hughes, who was named by Golf World magazine as one of the 50 college players to watch in 2011, finished the tournament tied for 37th with a 5-over-par 221.

Hughes, who is the number one player on the team, admitted that he had been struggling throughout some of the team’s previous three tournaments.

“I had a bad final round in Columbus, a bad first round in Tennessee and a bad first round here,” lamented Hughes. “But that’s golf.”

In collegiate golf, only the top four out of the five players’ scores factor in the team’s scoring. Hughes’ 7-over-par 223 didn’t count in Tennessee, but the Flashes won the tournament behind top-10 performances from Miller and sophomores Corey Conners, Kyle Kmiecik and Taylor Pendrith.

Hughes said that he always tries to stay positive for his teammates when he isn’t playing well, and that “it’s important to encourage them, even though they all know they’re great players.”

“The team has done great this fall,” Hughes said. “The fact that we won a tournament when I didn’t play well shows how deep we are.”

Hughes said he made a few “minor adjustments” throughout the week with help from the coaching staff, but his mental approach to the game is what helped him shoot even-par the last two rounds.

“I just needed to relax,” Hughes said. “This is my senior year. I just thought that I have to enjoy this moment, and that really freed me up the last two rounds.”

Page, who has used terms like “stud” and “outstanding young man,” to describe Hughes, commented on the senior’s mental toughness.

“He hasn’t had his ‘A’ game in a few rounds,” Page admitted. “But we are very proud of the way he hung in there and how he competed. He had a good week.”

Page, who has said on several occasions that he doesn’t concern himself with the national rankings, changed his tune a bit after the team’s performance at the elite tournament.

“I always say that I don’t follow these rankings much,” Page said. “But I’m pretty interested to see where we are in the rankings after a good showing here (Georgia), following the win last week.”

The U.S. Collegiate was the final tournament of the team’s fall schedule. The team won’t play an organized NCAA tournament until Feb. 25-26, at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate in Palm Desert, Calif.