Most college golf coaches (maybe every college golf coach?) know the uncertainty Adam Gary faced this summer. Would his Western Kentucky team play in the fall or wouldn’t it? Would he get all his players back? The answers depended on the week.
For Gary, it felt like the stars had aligned in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday. Not only is Western Kentucky competing, but the Hilltoppers logged the first Division I win post-COVID stoppage. The team finished nine shots ahead of the field at the USA Intercollegiate.
Afterward they piled in the van for the eight-hour drive back north to Bowling Green, Kentucky. Highway miles are a small price to pay, as far as Gary is concerned.
“I don’t know which is better, winning or being back playing golf after this break, but man it’s really good to have both,” Gary said.
Scores: USA Intercollegiate
Western Kentucky competes in Conference USA, which left it up to individual institutions to decide whether or not fall sports would play. Gary credits a supportive athletic director for letting the season go on.
It’s a particularly good thing considering that Gary thinks he might have one of the strongest teams of his seven-year tenure. A 6-under 858 total at Magnolia Grove Crossings Golf Course was the Hilltoppers second-best 54-hole total in program history. This is Gary’s eighth career title at Western Kentucky, making him the winningest coach in program history.
“It was a total team effort really from top to bottom,” Gary said.
Western Kentucky placed three players in the top 10 at the six-team USA Intercollegiate. Gary brought two freshmen to Mobile – Rachel Rich and Rylea Marcum, winner of the AJGA Justin Thomas Junior Championship last month. They had perhaps less rust to knock off than their older teammates – many juniors tournaments carried on throughout the summer – and Marcum played second individually in Mobile with her 5 under total.
South Alabama junior Julie Hovland won the individual title with a remarkable 12 under performance for 54 holes, which included a closing 66.
— WKU Lady Topper Golf (@WKUWomensGolf) September 6, 2020
At this point, it remains a privilege simply to compete.
“I felt like we really couldn’t lose because we were back playing,” Gary said. “There are not many teams in the country that are going to have this opportunity this fall. To help us learn and prepare for the spring, I always felt like you learn more form a tournament than you do at home practicing.”
Every player in the field had to pass a COVID test within 72 hours of the start of the tournament. Players used golf carts (riding as singles) and all three rounds began by tee time as opposed to shotgun to limit crowding at the practice facilities.
Flagsticks remained in the hole and players played the ball up in bunkers, considering there were no rakes.
The season will continue to look different in many ways and require an extra checklist – from remembering to bring your mask in case you need to enter an indoor area to knowing whether or not a hotel is offering a continental breakfast.
“I felt safe the entire time,” Gary said. “My team did also. It’s just good to be back.”