Sept. 12, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Matt Grobe wasn't expecting a championship in his first tournament as the Marshall men's golf coach.
What he did get, however, was satisfaction Ã¢â'¬Â¦ and a finish as high as the Thundering Herd had produced in its own tournament in nearly three decades.
He's also 1-for-1 on Conference USA Players of the Week.
Grobe's first outing in charge of the program that veteran Joe Feaganes guided for 40 years became a second-place tie with two-time defending champion Ohio State in the 43rd annual Marshall Invitational.
The Herd and Buckeyes finished at 1-over-par 853 over three rounds Monday and Tuesday at Guyan Golf & Country Club.
Meanwhile, Herd senior Nathan Kerns continued his big summer success, and was named C-USA men's Golfer of the Week today off his Marshall Invitational performance. The 2012 Ohio Amateur champion from Ironton shot an 8-under-205 (69-67-69), falling by one stroke to individual MI champion Korey Ward of Xavier.
Kerns, Ward and Scott Vincent of team champion Virginia Tech (16-under 836) were the only players (among 88 over 16 teams) to break par in each round. MU junior Jeremy Rogers of Buckhannon also had a top 10 finish, tying for eighth at 2-under 211.
"Nathan did play well, and that's what I was hoping," Grobe said. "You really worry about a senior. You worry about him putting too much stock in the round, really making it a bigger deal than it really is. And I think Nathan did a great job in sticking with his gameplan.
"He made birdies in bunches, in the first round, seven over a 9-hole stretch on the back side. His third round started not very well, 1 over through 6, then he proceeded to birdie four of next 5. Nathan's a guy when he gets rolling, people better watch out."
To put Grobe's debut in perspective, the Herd hadn't finished as high as second in its own invitational since 1983. The lone title came in 1977. A year ago, Kerns finished tied for 29th at Guyan, while Rogers tied for 73rd.
"We finished eighth last year, and I think our idea was, 'Let's improve on that,'" said Grobe, hired by his alma mater this summer from his teaching pro job in Henderson, Nev. "I'm never going to put a number out to the kids, finish this or that, but I think Coach Feaganes has put together a really, really good team here.
"Then, with the kids he's put together and the experience they've gained, I think our goal is always to win events and I think we went into our event trying to win it. Realistically, we wanted to do better than last year and we certainly did that."
The Herd entered Tuesday's final round in second place, and Grobe said he initially was disappointed in the early third-round play by his Herd.
"We really weren't playing very good the first 6-7 holes, but now that I look back at it, nobody else really was either," Grobe said. "We probably had our chance to make a move there, where could really put a little pressure on Virginia Tech. By the time we made the turn, we hadn't made a move and it was easier for them to win the tournament."
Tech's five players all posted top 20 finishes, four in the top 10. Grobe said that while three straight 73s for Herd junior Brian Anania - a U.S. Amateur qualifier this summer - seemed disappointing for the Herd, the MU coach said it was the maturity with which Anania handled his 6-over that meant more.
"I think Brian actually really fought hard for us, because I didn't think he had his game the last two days, and honestly that was one of the things that probably made me the happiest," Grobe said. "I didn't feel he was happy with anything he was doing.
"He was rolling the putts well, but they weren't falling. He hit some iron shots that weren't very good, drivers that weren't very good, and he just really gutted out some rounds. If BA hadn't done that, we would definitely not have finished as high as we did. I felt like he did not have his game, and that made me feel good that we finished second even with a couple guys not playing very well."
Sophomore Tas Sipowski (224) and walk-on junior Josh Holmes (225) finished in ties for 59th and 64th, respectively, to round out the Herd scorers.
Grobe also liked the resilience in his team, which seemed to have struggles early in rounds but held things together to finish strong on the 6,523-yard course.
"This team gained a lot of experience last year, and I think that was the key," the Herd coach said. "We had four guys playing the last two days that played the last two years. Maybe they stumbled a little bit coming down the stretch last year, but they've grown up a little bit, have a little experience under their belts.
"They finished all three rounds strong. They didn't make many bogeys coming home, actually made birdies in first two rounds Monday. That helped to solidify our position, and in the third round what we found was the kids really hung on finish strong, and we were able to hang onto second place."
Now, as the fall season advances, Grobe said he'll be on a fact-finding mission of sorts Ã¢â'¬Â¦ as will his players.
"I'm very satisfied the way the team played," he said. "I think we did really well. Everyone contributed in one way or another, think we have a very solid foundation to build upon, and our goal is to improve every time out. Now, we'll really find out what kind of team we have, when we play on different courses, like Louisville (Cardinal Intercollegiate, Sept. 24-25), our next event."
"We'll have a really good feel then for what we have. It's a little easier to play at home. You sleep in your own bed, play your home course you're familiar with. You know the greens break the way you know they break, know what to hit off the tees, know which alignments to take. Now, we're going to find out how much this experience pays off when we go on the road for this next event.
"When we talked as a team, all the guys felt like they could have played better, and that's good. I wanted them to be a little upset that we didn't play as well as we thought we could have, because that tells me we can hopefully play better as the season goes on."
Grobe said Kerns, Rogers and Anania "have solidified themselves in the lineup." He'll be looking for two more players to step up, this week and next.
"We've found three; the other two (Sipowski and Holmes) played pretty well," Grobe said. "I'd like to see them improve a little bit. And I think we've got some other people on the (11-player) roster that will maybe push them a little.
"We've got eight guys (battling) for two spots. We'll get those guys out there later this week and start some qualifying and see who will probably come out."