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PRAIRIE DUNES AWAITS BIG 12 GOLFERS
By Mark Janssen
Don't be upset with Tim Norris' thinking. There's some reasoning to his hoping for windy conditions, and, even throw in some droplets of rain for this week's Big 12 Men's Golf Championship at the Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
"Poor weather can be a great equalizer," said the K-State golf coach. "Good players can still play good golf, but this course can wear on you. It's all about damage control."
The Wildcats placed fifth last year, but from that team lost its three low Big 12 scorers in 7th place finisher Joe Ida, 15th place finisher Mitchell Gregson and 22nd place finisher Joe Kinney to graduation.
Taking their place are freshmen Thomas Birdsey and Jack Watson, plus sophomores Curtis Yonke and Ben Juffer, and junior Kyle Smell who will be making up this year's team.
"Our season has been OK, but not great. It's been pretty steady," said Norris. "You can't judge the season until the season is over, so a lot rides on how you finish in the conference. We have four players who have been on that course, and that's important with a course like Prairie Dunes. If we have a good week, we can be in the top half."
Birdsey has been K-State's low shooter this year with a 73.03 stroke average, followed by Watson at 74.45, Yonke 75.28, Juffer 75.42 and Smell 75.50.
"It's important to have guys playing well at the top, but those third, fourth and fifth guys are equally important," said Norris. "It's important that if you do get off to a poor start to be able to stick with it and contribute for the rest of the tournament."
The first two rounds will take place on Monday, followed by single rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday.
BIRDSEY, WATSON RANK HIGH: Golfstat's recently named KSU's freshman class of Birdsey and Watson No. 9 in the country for having the biggest impact on their team. It's the first time in school history that the Wildcats have earned such a ranking.
"Thomas and Jack came in and did not step up their game as much as they just played their game," said Norris. "Both of them have done a real good job of just playing the course as presented, and they never forced the issue on the course."
Birdsey finished in the top-20 three times, including two top-10 finishes. His highest finish was third at the Jim Colbert Intercollegiate, and he tied for 12th at the Kansas Invitational.
Watson finished in the top-20 on two occasions. His best finish came at the Jim Colbert Intercollegiate, where he placed second and he tied for sixth at the David Toms Intercollegiate.
"They are going against players and teams that have gone back to these courses three or four times," said Norris. "It has been a very good thing for our team to have those guys step in and get the experience for the years to come. I still see that both of these young players still have their best golf way in front of them, but again it is just nice that they have made the impact that they have this year."
BIG 12 HISTORY: In the first 15 years of the Big 12 Conference, K-State has enjoyed four first-division finishes: 4th in 2003 and 2009, 5th in 2010, and 6th in 2003.
Top 10 individual finishes have come from: Robert Streb, 3rd, 2009; Matt Van Cleave, 4th, 2005; Aaron Watkins, 6th, 2002; Joe Ida, 7th, 2010; Bryan Millerger, 8th, 2000; and, Van Cleave, 9th, 2004.
ON PRAIRIE DUNES: The Prairie Dunes Country Club is the design of Perry Maxwell. Maxwell believed that the land makes the course and is quoted as saying "the golf course should be there, not brought there."
He reportedly walked the original 480-acre Prairie Dunes site for weeks before deciding where and how to begin the construction. After his initial exploration he is said to have stated, "There are 118 golf holes here, and all I have to do is eliminate 100."
Prairie Dunes opened on September 13, 1937 and is considered Maxwell's greatest masterpiece.
2011 K-STATE BIG 12 ROSTER
• Thomas Birdsey, Fr., Trophy Club, Texas
• Ben Juffer, Soph., W. Des Moines, Iowa
• Kyle Smell, Jr., Overland Park, Kan.
• Jack Watson, Fr., Lincolnshire, Ill.
• Curtis Yonke, Soph., Overland Park, Kan.
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