MyBurgh helps Southwest Oklahoma State overcome tough year
HERSHEY, Pa. -- A lot of golf teams would’ve folded like a 35-handicap duffer if they’d faced what the Bulldogs of Southwestern Oklahoma State had this season.
Brad Fleetwood is the team’s third head coach in the last few months, and such turnover has been known to destroy other programs. That’s not what happened at Southwestern Oklahoma State, and for the first time in school history, the men’s squad made it here to the NCAA Championship.
Here’s how it all went down.
Coming off the 2012 Great American Conference championship -- the school’s first conference title since 1997 -- head coach Marc Chandonnet left to take a similar position at Seattle U. a week or so into the school year. His new gig took Chandonnet closer to family, and when he moved on, assistant baseball coach Todd George took over the reins of the Bulldogs’ men’s and women’s golf teams on an interim basis.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then it’s taken virtually an entire sports department to lead golf teams at Southwestern Oklahoma State this year.
“Todd did a phenomenal job,” Fleetwood said. “He’s just a competitive guy. He took it seriously. He knew that he had a good team, and he really pushed them both on the golf course and off the golf course. He was more than just a van driver.
“Everybody was involved. Our compliance officer went to a golf tournament with the ladies. Our AD [Todd Thurman] took our ladies to a golf tournament.”
For Fleetwood, such determined effort speaks volumes to the commitment the school’s sports department has to its golf teams. Other stick-and-ball sports like football, basketball and baseball obviously get the lion’s share of attention from one end of the country to the other.
At Southwestern Oklahoma State, golf hasn’t been almost completely forgotten as it can sometimes be.
“Golf usually kind of gets put on the back burner in a lot of athletic departments,” Fleetwood said. “I think our kids ultimately felt appreciated and felt like they were really cared for by our athletic department.”
Turns out, the Bulldogs didn’t just phone it in this year. Wouter MyBurgh was named the Great American Conference’s player of the year, and teammates Jake Duvall and Tommy Stirling were honorable mentions. Then, in the conference tournament, the outfit fell just one stroke short of its second consecutive GAC title.
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So, no, nobody gave up despite all the uncertainty with the coaching situation. Not these kids.
“Any coach will tell you that obviously you’ve got to recruit talent,” Fleetwood continued. “You’re not going to be successful if you don’t. But at the end of the day, the biggest part of it is recruiting character and recruiting good kids.
“We had a real blue-collar group of kids. We don’t have a bunch of country-club kids. We don’t have a bunch of spoiled kids. Unfortunately, you see that a lot in golf. We just had a hard-nosed, hard-working group of kids who had a lot of character.”
Playing at this level this late in the season might be enough for some teams, especially after the kind of tumult the Bulldogs have experienced in the 2012-13 season. That’s not what Fleetwood is looking for out of his charges here this week. He wants more.
Get through stroke play Monday through Wednesday, and then make the top-eight teams that’ll advance to match play Thursday and Friday. Winning golf tournaments, after all, is what the sport is all about. That would be a hole-in-one for Fleetwood.
“Although we had a good, solid conference tournament, I don’t think we’ve played our best golf yet,” Fleetwood said. “I don’t think our kids feel like we’ve played our best golf yet. One thing I tried to convey to them is to enjoy being here. Embrace it. We’re not guaranteed to be here again. But don’t just be content with being here.”