Wichita State Shockers

Shocker golfers change direction

As they stood around the putting green, all agreed. They needed to be told they were goofing up, and Wichita State men's golf coach Grier Jones is the man to say it.

"It was a meeting just to kick us all in the butt," sophomore Tyler Gann said. "He is blunt, but it takes that to fully understand the seriousness of the situation."

The Shockers struggled through a miserable fall season. Before the spring, Jones gathered them for a talk. The Shockers needed to work harder and put in time after practice. They needed to prepare for meets with more diligence. Perhaps WSU's struggles weren't that surprising with a roster containing four freshmen and three sophomores. The Shockers lost All-American Dustin Garza, who won seven tournaments as a senior.

The lack of experience didn't cause Jones to lower his standards.

"We weren't bad — we were worse than bad," he said. "When you've got a team of seven or eight guys, and everybody on the team is underachieving, that's bad. That's really bad."

The Shockers got the message. The spring season started with a good performance in their first tournament in February in Texas. On April 26, WSU won its fourth straight Missouri Valley Conference title to qualify for the 14-team NCAA Central Regional. The 12th-seeded Shockers begin play today in Zionsville, Ind.

"It's the same as any tournament — I want to win," sophomore Rafael Becker said. "I don't care who is in it. I don't care who we have to beat."

The Shockers will be an underdog this week, but they can talk more confidently after a successful spring. They finished in the top five of four of their eight spring tournaments. In mid-April, WSU finished seven strokes behind third-seeded Iowa and four behind 10th-seeded Charlotte in the Hawkeye Invitational in Iowa City.

Jones said the improvement came from the players. Practices didn't change much. His message didn't change. Somewhere along the way, the Shockers decided they wanted to spend more time on golf. Jones saw his team's competitiveness bloom in bad weather. At Iowa, the Shockers improved by 28 strokes on the second day in wintry conditions. At the MVC Tournament, the first day was filled with rain delays. Conditions weren't much better on the second day.

Some teams need to be chased out of the locker room on a cold day. Not this team.

"That next morning, we get out there and it's cold and it's windy," Jones said. "The minute we hit the parking lot, those guys were out the door and hit the practice tee. They wanted to play."

The Shockers credit the improvement to more practice time. Freshman Calvin Pearson, who tied for second at the Rice Intercollegiate, took practice rounds more seriously in the spring and played with a better knowledge of the course. Becker, who led WSU in the Border Olympics and the Oak Hills Invitational, worked on putting and chipping.

"Everybody put up so much more effort," Becker said. "It was mostly attitude. Everybody has the same abilities from the fall, but everybody worked so much harder. It showed up."