Three years ago, the idea of the Kansas University men’s golf team heading to the Big 12 Championship hoping to topple the No. 1 team in the nation seemed ludicrous.
Today, with the conference tourney set to begin Friday and No. 1 Texas looming, that is absolutely the Jayhawks’ goal.
“We’re not going down there for second, I know that,” said fourth-year KU coach Jamie Bermel. “And who knows? I like the way we’re playing. I like the guys on the team. We’re experienced. I think this course fits us pretty well, and we just need to keep our head down and worry about what we’re doing and not anybody else.”
Seeded sixth headed into this weekend’s event at Whispering Pines Golf Course in Trinity, Texas, the Jayhawks carry themselves more like a top-tier contender.
Winners of four events this season — including a two-time individual winner in senior Ben Welle — the Jayhawks always believed getting to this point was possible, even when Bermel first arrived in Lawrence and simply was looking to repair the divots left by the previous couple of seasons.
“When they came in, we were not in very good shape, and that was kind of the sales pitch: ‘You have a chance to play right away,’” said Bermel of his recruiting message to seniors Welle and Connor Peck and junior Chase Hanna.
Hanna has played in every event since becoming a Jayhawk. Welle has missed just one tournament during his four years. And Peck, who has been as hot as anyone in the Big 12 this spring, has missed just a couple.
“We’ve had three guys play for three years, and they bring a lot of experience,” Bermel said. “That’s almost 40 collegiate events they’ve played. This day and age, you don’t always get that.”
Backed by promising sophomore Dan Hudson and strong freshman Charlie Hillier, the Jayhawks have had one of the best springs in recent memory. That kind of reliable depth and quality experience has put the Jayhawks in position to compete in the always-elite Big 12 Conference and on the brink of qualifying for an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2007.
“Win four times. A couple individual wins. Five guys are academic All-Big 12. That’s a good foundation to build on,” Bermel said recapping this season’s long list of accomplishments thus far.
Beyond that, fielding a solid roster from top to bottom has put Bermel in position to make a very different pitch to the recruits he visits these days.
“Guys coming in now, (they know) it’s gonna be pretty tough to break the lineup,” Bermel said. “But on the other side of the coin, they see the success we’ve had and I think they want to be a part of that, too.... Honestly, I think the guys we’re bringing in next year are more talented than the guys we brought in this year or the year before, so I think we’re pointed in the right direction.”
After a full week off, which Bermel said gave his golfers a chance to rest their bodies and minds as well as focus on finishing strong in the classroom, the Jayhawks spent the early part of the week fine-tuning their games in preparation for a Wednesday departure before teeing it up at the main event on Friday.
Kansas will be paired with No. 5 seed Texas Tech in the 72-hole event, with Texas seeded first, Oklahoma State second, Oklahoma third and Baylor fourth.
“Three years ago we got kicked around pretty good,” Bermel said. “But I think those days are past us, we’re certainly making the progress that we need to make and I think more good things are ahead.”
Kansas team success
Dating back to last fall, Kansas finished in the top five at nine events this season and never finished lower than eighth:
• Sept 12-13 — Rod Myers Invitational — 5th
• Sept. 21-22 — Ram Masters Invitational — 2nd
• Sept. 27-29 — Badger Invitational — 1st
• Oct. 12-13 — Bayou City Collegiate Championship — 3rd
• Oct. 23-25 — Price’s Give ’Em Five Invitational — 1st
• Nov. 6-8 — Ka’anapali Collegiate Classic — 6th
• Feb. 19-21 — Desert Intercollegiate — 1st
• Feb. 29-March 1 — Louisiana Classics Invitational — 2nd
• March 18-19 — Desert Shootout — 2nd
• April 3-5 — Hootie At Bulls Bay Intercollegiate — 8th
• April 16-17 — Great River Entertainment Invitational — 1st
Top individual finishes
The Jayhawks also had 10 individual top-five finishes this season:
• Ben Welle, 1st — Ram Masters
• Chase Hanna and Dan Hudson, T-3rd — Badger Invitational
• Ben Welle, 3rd — Bayou City Collegiate Championship
• Ben Welle, 2nd — Price’s Give ’Em Five Invitational
• Charlie Hillier, T-3rd — Desert Intercollegiate
• Ben Welle, 1st — Louisiana Classics Invitational
• Connor Peck, 5th — Desert Shootout
• Charlie Hillier, T-3rd — Hootie At Bulls Bay Intercollegiate
• Dan Hudson, 4th — Great River Entertainment Invitational