At the end of every practice, men’s golf head coach Chuck Scheinost sets up a “ticket” that every player must complete before the team can head back to campus.
Sometimes that “ticket” challenges them to lag-putt from 50 feet. Other times, they must get up-and-down from off the green. But no matter the task, they all must do it.
Scheinost said the exercise teaches his players that while golf is an individual sport, at the college level, the men have to rely on each other to accomplish their team’s goals.
At the Atlantic 10 Championships in Lutz, Fla. last weekend, the countless number of “tickets” finally paid off. With four players shooting their best rounds of the championship on the final day, GW posted its fourth-best round of the season and earned a third-place finish out of 11 teams – its highest finish of the season.
“Over the last five tournaments, the guys have really started to believe in their own games a little bit more,” Scheinost said. “We felt like we had a chance coming into this week and unfortunately we fell a little short of that ultimate goal, but I’m very proud of what our guys did.”
In the fall, the Colonials failed to finish in the top 10 in any event, coming in last three times. Even with more practices, more qualifying rounds and more open tournament spots, they struggled to adjust to the first-year coach’s structured system. But by spring break, freshman Lucas Farmer said, the team began to wholeheartedly buy into it.
“We all realized that we could put together good rounds even when we weren’t playing well,” Farmer said. “That’s when it all started to click.”
The Colonials began to blossom, posting their lowest score of the year – a two-round total of 37-over – to finish in 6th place out of 22 teams at the Towson Invitational. They followed that up two weeks later with their second-lowest three-round total – a 57-over 897 – at the Greenbrier Collegiate Invitational.
Their scoring average dropped almost nine strokes a round, and another potential sixth-place finish at the conference tournament was seeming less and less likely.
Scheinost said the changes were “maybe even a culture shock,” but the team eventually understood his expectations.
“They’ve taken a little more pride and ownership within their own games. We see guys staying later and coming earlier to practice, and that’s something you certainly need at this level,” he said.
Their improvement was put to the test at TPC Tampa Bay, a par-71 course surrounded by natural Florida wetlands and miles of interwoven water hazards. Players could take advantage of the nice conditions, but could also make the course tougher for themselves by missing greens, which made the lines they took off the tee key.
“You have to drive the ball well, that’s the main thing. If you don’t drive the ball well, you’re playing catch up all day,” freshman Lucas Farmer said.
After failing to defeat an A-10 opponent all season and picked to finish seventh, the Colonials rode their spring momentum to finish in third place (304, 303, 297 = 904) at 52-over, just behind second-place Richmond and first-place VCU, which were separated by just one stroke at 27 and 26 over, respectively.
The Colonials were led by junior Jack Persons and freshman Michael Heda, who both finished tied for ninth with a three-round combined total of 12-over, 225.
After shooting a two-under 69 Saturday – the lowest score of the day among the entire field – Persons (75, 69, 81 = 225) jumped eight spots in the standings and entered the final round, tied for third overall. But he let his chances for an individual trophy slip down the stretch, shooting 7-over on his last five holes of the final round for a 10-over, 81.
Persons ends the season with a team-best four top-20 finishes, all coming in the last five tournaments. Softening the blow from the final round, the San Francisco native was awarded all-conference honors – his first award of the kind.
“Jack played pretty solid all week. I know today, some of the putts that went in the last couple of days hung on the lip, and that can be the difference sometimes in gaining momentum,” Scheinost said. “He had an unfortunate finish down the stretch, but played a solid tournament overall.”
Heda (77, 76, 72 = 225), who ends the season leading the team in overall scoring average, had his best round of the championship on Sunday, posting a one-over 71.
“The big difference today was that I found my swing,” said Heda, who hit 14 greens Sunday. “I finally started to hit the ball well. I hit a lot of greens, which I didn’t do the first two days, and my putting stroke felt good. Everything just felt pretty good.”
Heda described the course as “high risk, high reward,” requiring a keen focus on course management. He exemplified this awareness with his eagle on the par-5 12th hole, which he had bogeyed the previous two days. After a perfect drive, the Weston, Fla. native decided to go for the green in two. He striped a four-iron to 25-feet and sank the putt.
Rounding out the field for GW were Farmer (76, 78, 74 = 228) and sophomores Michael Helton (76, 80, 76 = 232) and Steve Piela (78, 87, 75 = 240), who finished T-12, T-21 and T-37, respectively, out of the 50-player field.
Piela posted the first score for the Colonials on Sunday, pointing his team in the right direction and bouncing back well after leaving plenty of black marks on his Saturday scorecard.
Farmer, in his first A-10 Championship, said he grappled with nerves over the first two days, but settled down and felt loose Sunday.
“I’ve been hitting it well the past couple of days, and then today, I just played more conservative,” Farmer said, adding that he remained patient for his game to come around. “Today was the toughest set-up by far. The pins were in places that were really tough to get to, so I just played conservative and made a bunch of pars.”
With the finish, the Colonials solidify their spring turnaround and leave themselves with a strong foundation for next year. All five players who competed at this year’s championship will return next season. There will undoubtedly be more “tickets” in their future, but larger goals to accomplish together as well.
“We came from the fall where we were just looking to get a round or two in the 70s to where all five of our guys are now having the chance to count every round,” Scheinost said. “That’s been an extreme improvement on the whole team’s behalf. They’ve really worked and bought into playing smarter golf.”