CONOVER, N.C. -- When all the strokes and eagles and birdies and bogies were tallied here last year, Jimmy Stobs wore the relieved smile of a champion.
It was the Barry head coach’s third NCAA Division II men’s golf national championship, and second in as many years. Thing is, Stobs' team was supposed to win it all. They had one of the best players in the country in Adam Svenssen, and expectations were high.
Stobs felt it, and felt it in a big way.
“Last year, I personally felt a lot of pressure,” Stobs said. “When you have the best team on paper and you dominated the regular season, if you don’t win the last tournament, you really feel like you failed.”Barry won its conference and regional tournaments last year, and maybe ten days remained before the start of the national championship tournament here. Stobs wasn’t especially easy on his squad in the interim.
Stobs had the player of the year … All-Americans … everything a coach needs to win last year. Still, all five players had to go out and perform. It was a fact Stobs did his best to impress upon his squad.
“I was tough on them,” said Stobs, who will coach the American contingent at the Junior World Cup next month in Japan. “I really pushed them hard and didn’t let them slack off at all, because I knew that if we didn’t win that last tournament, it was going to be just a bitter taste in their mouth.
“There’s a sense sometimes in sports that when you have the best player, you’re supposed to win. It’s not a surprise. I’m not a believer in that. There’s been many top players in the country and their teams didn’t even sniff a national championship, didn’t even get to nationals.”
Things are different this year, and one of the biggest reasons why is because Svenssen left the team in February to turn pro. Instead of being ranked first going into the tournament, the Buccaneers are fourth.
The target, Stobs says, is gone.
“So this year, yeah, it’s a little bit of a relief not to be the team that dominated all year,” Stobs said. “We’re a team that’s kind of hanging around, waiting for an opportunity, waiting to play well. We haven’t played well as a team. We’ve had some good rounds, but we haven’t put it all together yet. I’m hoping next week, they put it all together.”
The goal this year is still to win it all, and to get there, Barry’s golfers will have to be one of the eight teams to make it into match play. At that point, scoring will be based on the winner of each hole instead of cumulative strokes.
“When [Svenssen] left, obviously, it weakened the team,” Stobs said. “But I still think we’ve been competitive and I still like our chances. Once we get to match play, anything can happen. If a top player has an off day, someone who is not maybe of the same caliber can beat that player if they have a good day. This format, there are no guarantees. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you have an off day and your opponent has a good day, you’re going home.”
It might be harder to win this year without Svenssen, but it can be done. His players are upbeat and ready to go, Stobs says, and the hardest-working team he’s ever had.
Just get to match play and see what happens. That’s all Stobs is asking.
“I think a lot of people just assumed that we were going to win and it was easy to win because we had the best player,” Stobs said. “I also had three other All-Americans. It doesn’t matter whether you’re labeled All-American or not All-American, you still have to go out, perform and play well. It takes a team. It takes five guys. [Winning the national championship this year] would mean a lot to the program. This would just prove we’re more than a one-man show.”