SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Some might say it’s a nice story and run for Kansas to have simply navigated its way to Grayhawk Golf Club for the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship. Others might notice that this team could also navigate its way through a few of the necessary checkpoints to extend its season.
It’s something head coach Jamie Bermel, who brings the Jayhawks to the finals for the second time in four years, talked about with his team.
“We said look, we have to get into the morning wave for the third round, make the cut and then get into match play. When you get into match play anything can happen,” said Bermel. “To get into the top eight you need four good scores. To win a match you only need three wins.”
That’s the beauty of this championship for a team like Kansas, whose best NCAA finish is T-11 in 1950.
It’s a fact that teams ranked at the very top almost always win stroke play. Just once in 12 years has a team not ranked in the top three been the best after 72 holes, and that was Arizona State last year when the Sun Devils were ranked 10th.
However, the eventual NCAA match play champion has been ranked outside the top 10 five times in 12 years of head-to-head play. There’s hope for all who get to Grayhawk and can find a top-eight spot after 72 holes.
Opening rounds of 286 and 297 have given the Jayhawks that third round morning tee time. One checkpoint cleared. Next up? Make the 54-hole cut which comes after round three on Sunday.
There is no reason to believe this Jayhawks team can’t be one of those teams that can continue to stay in the mix. Their season to this point has prepared them for this run.
A four-win fall put the Jayhawks in the top 10 at one point. After a season-opening fifth-place finish at the Marquette Intercollegiate, Bermel’s squad went on to win four consecutive events: Gopher Invitational, Windon Memorial, Quail Valley Collegiate and the Ka’anapali Classic Collegiate.
Two Jayhawks would win individually, with Luke Kluver claiming the Gopher and Davis Cooper winning the Windon.
“It was one of those deals where you hate for the fall season to end,” said Bermel. “We were really confident and feeding off of each other.”
The spring season did not produce the same sort of results. The Jaywaks would slowly drop in the national rankings, but still remained a top-30 team.
The college golf season stretches out more than nine months and it’s hard to stay sharp that long, which may have been a problem.
“I felt we kind of lost our focus and you hate to make excuses,” said Bermel. “When (Kansas) was playing in the sweet 16 (in college basketball) we didn’t play very well, when KU was in the Final Four, we didn’t play very well.”
Thankfully for the golf, the college golf season extends past the college basketball season, which came to an end and saw the Jayhawks win the NCAA basketball title.
“Our kids were so into basketball and not to make excuses, but I felt we lost some of our focus.”
A sixth-place finish at the Big 12 Championship was followed by being named the No. 5 seed at the NCAA Bryan Regional. Kansas would find itself on the outside looking in heading into the final round of regional play. A gut-check performance with Callum Bruce ill and not able to play the final two rounds, the Jayhawks would be just good enough to advance, with Cooper coming up big as a substitute.
If we condense the Jayhawks season into this championship week for golf, comparisons can be made. We saw a good start, now will Kansas be able to stay focused and continue to check the boxes needed to keep playing golf?
Bermel thinks so.
“We have three fifth year guys in Luke Kluver, William Duquette and Davis Cooper. We have experience and I think that helps.”
It’s been a very good year for Jayhawks golf, which may be the best in program history. Can they continue to clear the hurdles and get a crack at what most teams dream about when they make it this far?
“We have some guys that are really good, but they have to play really well too,” said Bermel.