CONOVER, N.C. -- No matter what happens in the NCAA Division II national championships, Florida Southern head coach Doug Gordin has to like his chances in the years to come. Moccasins John Coultas, Jimmy Jones and John VanDerLaan are all true freshmen, and the other two members of the team are sophomores Jason Huntington and Levin Hoffmann.
Coultas led the way for the Mocs on Monday, shooting a one-under-par 70. The team was tied for 12th after the first round -- without an upperclassman to be found.
“With three freshmen and two sophomores, I think it’s a great feat to get here,” Gordin said. “I’ve been coaching in Division II 20 years, and there’s never been a team there with three freshmen and two sophomores. I’ve been coaching for 38 years all together, and I’ve never had three freshmen like this, that’s for sure. I’ve never had one freshman like that.”
“The biggest dynamic is leadership,” Gordin said. “It’s tough to have a leader when they’re all freshmen and sophomores. Usually, you’ve got at least a junior or a senior in there. The great thing about these guys is that in terms of work ethic, they don’t need (leadership).
“Basically, the leadership comes in playing college tournaments and doing things the right way on and off the course. I’ve provided that. I haven’t been a captain since I was captain of my golf team (at Ohio Wesleyan) in 1978. It’s kind of an interesting role. I was a little younger then.”
Despite struggling on the back nine Monday, the Mocs still have a chance, if they can be among the top eight teams when the field is cut after Wednesday's third round. Then it's match play, where the winner of each hole gets a point toward the title.
“Overall, it was not a good day teamwise for us (Monday), but like I told our team, if you’re going to do that, do it in the first round because we have two rounds to make this deficit up,” Gordin said. “We just need to go out (Tuesday) morning, get out there early, post a good number and we’ll be right back in it.”
Gordin said match play could play into Florida Southern's strengths.
“If we were playing stroke play like we used to, I would say that we would not win,” Gordin said. “We’re not deep enough to post four good scores and beat top-ranked teams like Nova, Lynn, Aiken and Barry. But we’re not playing that format. Our goal is to get into the match play portion. That would be quite a feat as well, although I certainly think we can do that.”
The three freshmen have had no trouble getting acquainted. Coultas and VanDerLaan typically room together when they’re on the road, while Coultas and Jones went to nearby high schools. That, and Gordin's team captain/head coach role, has helped immensely in their development.
“(Gordin) doesn’t really focus on the physical game as much as he does the mental side of the game,” Coultas said. “Whenever I get off to a hot start, I keep going and get too fast with myself. He’s told me to slow it down a couple of times, and keep it one hole at a time, one shot at a time.
“The other big thing he talks about it patience on the golf course. If you get started out slow or bad, you have time to make it up.”
Jones was heading toward a hockey career before a broken wrist sidelined those dreams. His mom, Dawn Jones, played on the LPGA tour for 24 seasons and is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. So it was perhaps inevitable Jones would pursue golf as a second option. But it was Gordin who focused Jones on managing his game.
“I was a young golfer, just going out there and trying to hit it as hard as I can and just hitting it all over the place,” Jones said. “(Gordin)’s put golf in a different perspective I didn’t have before as a junior golfer.”
VanDerLaan went to Florida Southern because he felt the opportunities were there to win a national championship. Given the team's chemistry, that goal is a real possibility.
“We all have a great relationship,” VanDerLaan said. “We’re all really good friends. We all go from practice and go eat together. We just hang out with each other away from the golf course. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been so successful as such a young team.”
A trip to the Division II national championships in 2015 is only the start, Gordin believes.
“I can’t wait for the next three years,” Gordin said. “I can’t wait to see what these guys and the guys who are coming in next year accomplish. Over the next three years, I would certainly hope that we would be playing for a national title.”