December 1, 2006

Led by Lollar and Nelson, Eagle Golf Has Quietly Achieved Success

Dec. 1, 2006

Story by Brandon Hansen

In football or basketball you hear the roar of the crowd during the game. It can inspire the home team or rattle the visitors. It's a vital part of any athletic event.

However, in golf, silence is golden.

The Eastern Washington University women's golf team has quietly amassed a 15-1 record against Big Sky Conference schools during the 2006 fall season.

The Eagles look poised to do big things in the spring season. Junior Chelsey Lollar and sophomore Marli Mikulecky will play a significant role in the outcome of the Big Sky Championship. Both players are from Canada and both played on their high school's varsity boys' team.

"Both of them are very good players and it was valuable to play against the guys," said EWU head coach Marc Hughes. "That's rare, you don't have a lot of sports where women can play on the men's varsity sports team."

Mikulecky is making big strides in her game. The sophomore is a transfer from Mississippi State and had to hide out in her apartment for two days when Hurricane Katrina hit.

"She's made big strides in her life and in her confidence as well," said Hughes.

Hughes said that the team is pretty equal to any school in the country through the first 15 holes of play. The team now needs to focus on finishing the last four holes with that killer instinct like the elite institutions in the country.

"People can't believe how good the team is when they see them. They expect topped shots, whiffs, and shanks," said EWU head coach Marc Hughes. "It's just that we aren't as visible as other sports."

Largely due to the fact that there is no golf course in Cheney, there are no home matches in the town. And largely due to the individualistic nature of golf, many EWU students aren't aware of the team's success in the Big Sky Conference.

However, they still are collegiate athletes playing on some of the best real estate on the planet and getting to play golf while earning a higher education.

"My players are very fortunate to have this opportunity. It's not like we need a liver transplant here," said Hughes.

Utilizing many of the local golf courses throughout the Spokane area, Hughes and his team use the same kind of Eagle work ethic that the team sports use.

"We do a lot of short game and course management work," said Hughes. "It's structured just like a football or basketball practice would be."

By all accounts, other than the 20-minute drive, Spokane is an excellent destination for golfers.

"Spokane, as a community, is very into their golf and it's affordable here," said Hughes. "They take care of their golf courses here. People can actually build it into their lifestyle."

However, a problem with not having their own course is being able to practice numerous different shots, since the golf courses have to keep paying customers moving through their rounds of golf without too much of a delay.

That means that when the Eagles go to other tournaments across the country, they're experiencing certain types of shots that they haven't seen before.

"To a certain extent, we're rolling the dice at some of our tournaments and our finish can be somewhat of a crapshoot," said Hughes. "There are shots that we don't see here (in Spokane). There are some challenges that we can't prepare for."

Another obstacle that collegiate golfers have to overcome is the travel. This fall, the Eagles spent 16 of 31 days outside of Cheney.

"I think that only baseball travels more than golf in collegiate athletics," said Hughes.

Collegiate Tournaments are typically held on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday because those are the lowest traffic days playing golf. Eastern attends 12 of these tournaments, meaning that nearly month of school might be missed when the days are all combined.

"The professors have been very cooperative," said Hughes. "We have good students, they're good kids and they are on top of their academics. They're not demanding to be accommodated."

Hughes has coached at EWU for nine years and said that he had never had problems with golfers and their academics. And while golf is more of an individual sport, the team does develop strong relationships since they travel and room together.

"It's funny because they hardly see one another when they're competing," said Hughes. "They are all alone on the golf course."

And that kind of pressure is not seen in team sports.

"It's not like you can say the ref took you out of the game," said Hughes. "It's all on you."

With six players on the roster, five players travel to each tournament. Three rounds are played in a tournament with the four best individual scores each round counting to determine the total score and deciding where the team placed.

"When a player doesn't count (the fifth score is thrown out), they tend to put pressure on themselves until their score is counted again," said Hughes. "They don't feel like they're contributing to the team and they carry this self-induced weight on their shoulder."

Dealing with that kind of pressure takes a special kind of athlete, and coach Hughes goes to great lengths in finding that kind of athlete.

"Nine years ago I started doing home visits," said Hughes. "There are not a lot of golf coaches that do home visits."

He tries to visit every player that he recruits after spending most of the summer watching tournaments. Each year he visits roughly 8-10 players.

"I look for how they interact with their parents," said Hughes. "When I'm scouting, I look for how they deal with pressure situations. Also, I want players who want to be Eastern Eagles."

Hughes also spends that time educating players about what it's like to play golf at the NCAA Division I level.

"I try and let them know that they're probably going to get slapped around a little bit their first year out on the golf course," said Hughes. "It's all about how quickly you pick yourself off the floor."

He also puts a lot of importance on time management.

"There's that process of learning how to be self-sufficient," said Hughes. "And with athletics, you kind of have to have your ducks in a row."

Eastern starts it season back up soon, practicing indoors in a converted racquetball court in the EWU Sports and Recreation Center. Eastern should be golfing outdoors in the Tri-Cities by February.

Although with some pretty convincing domination of the Big Sky Conference by the Eagles in the fall season, it's apparent that this team has is its ducks in a row.

 

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