Men’s golf sets program record with sixth-place finish at NCAAs

Doug Gulasy

It’s no surprise freshman golfer John Hahn hadn’t experienced anything quite like what the Kent State men’s golf team did at this season’s NCAA Championships.

After all, it was just Hahn’s first season with the program, and not even Herb Page, who has coached the Flashes for 30 years, had experienced anything like it.

The Flashes placed sixth in the country – the highest finish in program history – at the NCAA Championships, which were held May 28-31 at Kampen Course in West Lafayette, Ind.

“It makes you feel proud of our players and our school, our athletic department (and) our golf program,” Page said. I’m an alumnus, so I bleed blue and gold, and it was just a great, great tournament for us.”

The Flashes shot 52-over-par in the four-day tournament, finishing 10 strokes behind tournament winner UCLA. The Flashes entered the tournament ranked 27th, but with their sixth place finish, they finished with a better score than 15 teams ranked higher than them in polls, including four of the top 10 teams in the country.

“I don’t want to sound pompous that this is who we’re trying to beat and compete against, but we are,” Page said. “You’ve seen our (practice) facility (that opened in fall 2007) – you’ve seen our new place. (The finish) sort of validates it, doesn’t it?”

Hahn said the Flashes were prepared to play and beat some of the teams it did because of what they experienced mentally during the season.

“Physically, there’s not a huge difference between the top teams in I think any college sport,” Hahn said. “But mentally was where the difference was.

“Being a Northern team, we play on traditionally much harder golf courses up here and much more difficult weather, and we know the value of a par. And it was definitely very valuable at the Kampen Course. I think mentally we just outfought them and hung in there and persevered through very tough conditions. It wasn’t a matter of physically (outplaying teams).”

The sixth-place finish capped off a spring season in which the team improved after finishing 13th out of 15 teams in its first spring tournament.

Beginning with a second-place finish at the National Invitational Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., the Flashes compiled four straight top-three finishes, including two tournament wins, to close the regular season.

Then they finished second at the Mid-American Conference Championship and eighth out of 27 teams at the NCAA Central Regional to advance to the NCAA Championships.

“They just believed in themselves mostly and we had just a lot of good things happen,” Page said. “(It was) a great group of young men, led by a senior (David Markle) and a freshman (Hahn).”

Markle tied for ninth place at the NCAA Championships, his sixth top-10 finish of the spring. Hahn, the MAC Golfer of the Year, tied for 33rd place.

Sophomore David Ludlow tied for 23rd, freshman Brett Cairns tied for 43rd and senior Tom Ballinger tied for 73rd to round out the Flashes’ golfers.

When the Flashes got back to campus after the tournament, Page said he had one last meeting with the five golfers before they went their separate ways for the summer.

“We were dropped off at 3:30 in the morning – we drove back from Purdue,” Page said. “(I said), ‘This is the last time I’ll see all five of you guys in the same room.’ And it was in a van. But I said ‘Cherish it (and) celebrate it.’ I’m still in that stage.”

So is Hahn, even as he prepares to play in several tournaments individually over the summer. But he is thinking about the possibility of similar or better finishes in the future.

“You think from my perspective, ‘OK, my first year in the program, we already finished sixth in the NCAA finals,'” Hahn said.

“My plans obviously are to win an NCAA individual title and a team title. To do that is going to take hard work (and) experience. And I think coach Page is going to be a huge (help) in the way of us doing that.”

Contact managing editor Doug Gulasy at [email protected].