A great challenge is what a top-notch golfer lives for. The challenge can vary from the course, the opponent, the elements, or even the mental aspect.
For the Mount Vernon Nazarene College Cougar golf squad, the mental challenge may be their toughest opponent in 2000. The team is made up of one senior, one junior, three sophomores and two freshmen. According to fifth-year head coach Mike O'Hara, this is potentially the most talented group of golfers he has ever had. Now they have to go out and prove it.
"We have a bright outlook for this season," said O'Hara. "With four returning starters, I expect us to be real competitive this season. This has been our most productive off-season with everyone training real hard with running in the mornings and lifting each day. Everybody has improved and we are expecting big things from this group."
The youth movement paid dividends in the fall and has garnered MVNC some respect. The Cougars are ranked 29th in the preseason NAIA golf poll despite finishing the 1999 campaign with a 33-49 overall record.
The Cougars will look to improve on that mark this season. The Cougars will also be seeking their first-ever American Mideast Conference championship in school history when the 2000 season rolls around. However, winning an AMC championship will not be easy as the conference has traditionally been strong and this year is no different. Arch-rival Malone College is ranked fifth in the preseason NAIA poll. The Cougars know that the road to the AMC title goes through Malone.
Junior Matt Durst will be called upon to lead his younger counterparts. The Westerville native took home medalist honors in the 1999 Malone College Invitational in the fall and has set his sights much higher in the spring. Durst averaged 81 strokes per round last season as he struggled through an injury-plagued 1999 season. Durst expects to lower that score now that he is back and healthy in 2000.
Sophomore Sam McGraw returns after a solid rookie season. The South Vienna native averaged 81 strokes per outing last season. According to O'Hara, McGraw has made some big strides in the off-season and expects him to be a big contributor in 2000.
Senior Steve Hesson returns for his final campaign in the Cougar blue and green. The Monroe native will be asked to step up his leadership role as well as his game. Hesson averaged 83 strokes per round last season and knows that he must shave a few strokes off of that if MVNC hopes to contend for the conference title.
The sophomore duo of Todd Mazur and Tim Hirschy return with a year of experience under their belts. Mazur, a Grafton native, has improved his game in the off-season and will be counted on heavily to push his peers to new limits. Hirschy, a Hudson native, has continued to make improvements in his game and expects to contend for playing time.
The freshman tandem of Chad Gress and Ben Sharrock solidify the young Cougar squad. Gress has already made an impact on the Cougar golf program, as he took home medalist honors in the fall at the Power-Aide Fall College Preview. The Coshocton native will push his teammates to get better and has impressed his coach with his strong early play. Sharrock will vie for a starting spot in the five-man rotation. The Mount Gilead native comes from a very strong high school program and is expected to be a contributor to the success of the Cougar golf program.
"I look for us to continue to get better throughout the season," said O'Hara. "Our practice schedule has been real productive. We instituted this regimen in the middle of the season last year and I have seen great benefits from it. We are really focusing a lot of time and energy on our short game which is a major part of the game of golf."