The buzz word for the Cavalier men's golf team this season is "maturity."
This fall, Virginia golfers have experienced personal growth that has already translated into team success. The past two years, the Cavaliers have garnered NCAA Tournament bids, and promising results this fall suggest a three-peat appearance could be on the horizon.
"I think most of it has been maturity," coach Bowen Sergant said. "A preponderance of the team has been freshman and sophomores. Now these guys are becoming juniors and seniors, so I think that just through natural maturation these guys have gotten better."
"Better" may be an understatement. The Cavalier team entered the fall season outside the nation's top 50. After strong performances in each of its five tournaments, however, Virginia has a chance of finishing the fall ranked within the top 25.
The Cavaliers opened their season with a fourth place finish at the Maryland Intercollegiate, highlighted by an individual win from sophomore Ben Kohles. With a three-day total score of 7-under 206, Kohles tied for first with North Carolina junior Henry Zaytoun and topped a field that included last year's NCAA champion and Male Golfer of the Year, N.C. State junior Matt Hill.
Kohles remained steady throughout the season, finishing in the top 10 at all tournaments except for one. He also led the Cavaliers with a scoring average of 70.8. Although these strong individual stats factored heavily into Virginia's overall fall success, Kohles still defers the credit to his teammates.
"This fall, we came together more as a team in the tournaments," Kohles said. "I think the key is that we have a lot of good chemistry with the team this year and we have a lot of experience."
This experience propelled the team to medals in each of its final four tournaments. The team placed second at the VCU Shootout, followed by a pair of third-place finishes at the Gary Koch Intercollegiate and the Bank of Tennessee's Intercollegiate at The Ridge. Behind starters Kohles, junior Amory Davis, senior Kyle Stough, junior Will Collins and sophomore Bruce Woodall, Virginia finished its fall season by placing second at the UNCG Bridgestone Invitational.
"The past few tournaments we have not had any freshman playing," Davis said. "Everyone has been there before. They have gotten more mature and their games have been getting better, and they are focused on what they want to do."
Davis is one player who has capitalized on an improved game and added focus. At the Bridgestone Invitational, the junior tied a program scoring record while winning the individual tournament. Davis navigated Forest Oaks Country Club in only 205 strokes during three rounds, tying the course record with his 11-under par performance.
Davis' dominance carried Virginia to a second-place finish and infused the team with confidence as it tunes up for the spring season.
"Golf is almost all confidence, all the time," Stough said. "Right now, this team as a whole has a ton of confidence. Going into every tournament, we feel like we are going to win." The team hopes to carry this attitude into their spring season, when it will continue its hunt for a NCAA entry.
"The whole season works in an entirety, even though it is like two separate seasons," Sergant explained. "It would be almost like taking a break in the middle of football season, playing four games, taking a three-month break and playing the last four. These tournaments we played count toward NCAAs just like the ones in the spring."
The Cavaliers' fall success places the team in national championship contention earlier in the year than during previous seasons.
"This fall has actually been really different than any of the previous fall seasons we have had," Stough said. "In the past, we have always put ourselves behind the eight ball ... having to work extremely hard during the winter to get ourselves in a good spot to get to NCAAs."
Sitting in this comfortable position, the team now has a chance to relax.
"Having a really good fall helps us," Kohles added. "We know we can play well and we won't have the pressure of having to play well."
Although a great fall improves team morale, that does not mean the players will throw their clubs in the closet this winter.
"I think that everyone just needs to work hard over the winter," Davis said. "I think everyone wants to win. We haven't won a tournament yet and we will be going into the first tournament in the spring just wanting to win. I think we can get it"