Wildcats Look to Add to Impressive Body of Work

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State head coach Tim Norris won’t be using this weekend’s Big 12 Championship as the final measurement for his team’s success this season, opting rather to focus on the body of work done thus far. However, that doesn’t keep 11th-year skipper from getting excited about tacking on more achievements to one of the greatest seasons in K-State history.

“I talked to the team about the chance that we have to add to one of the best seasons for Kansas State golf, as far as the consistency of play and the consistent high finishes, the individual performances go,” Norris said. “We have a chance to add to all that at the conference tournament. (There’s no) better place to put the finishing touches on the best season that I’ve been here for.”

The Wildcats roll into Friday’s opening rounds at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas, on the heels of three consecutive top-five finishes, having tied the K-State single season mark at eight. K-State is confident that its current school-record scoring average 293.36 strokes per round numerous new individual marks, and its first tournament win since 2003 will translate into success during the three-day, 72-hole event.

“It’s one thing for the coach to be optimistic because that’s his job, but when the player’s are optimistic then you’ve got a chance,” Norris said. “I think our players are optimistic, they’re positive and upbeat. From a confidence standpoint, it’s not me telling them they can do it, it’s them knowing they can do it. There’s a Grand Canyon between both sides of that fence.”

The Wildcats seemingly have a tall task, teeing off against three top-30 ranked opponents, being seeded as the eighth-best team according to the league coaches, and having never placed higher than fourth place at the 2004 Big 12 Championship on an in-state golf course. Norris thinks his team can handle it.

“It’s going to be an endurance test with 36 holes on Friday and 18 on Saturday and Sunday and I would say pacing yourself mentally and emotionally is going to be the biggest thing we can do that,” Norris said. “I really feel like this year we have a chance to eclipse our best finish if we play well. There have been years before that if we played well, the top half would have been good. From a potential standpoint, from a confidence standpoint, I think this group has a chance to do as well as any other team.”

The Wildcats will send a young, but talented group of players to Texas, led by sophomores Mitch Gregson and Joe Ida. The duo have teetered back-and-forth atop K-State’s scoring lineup all season and are separated by just seven strokes through 33 rounds of competition. Gregson’s 72.64 scoring average leads the Wildcats and is the second-best single-season average in school history. Ida posted two rounds of 65 this season and his 72.85 scoring average is also among the all-time bests at K-State.

Throw in the old man of the group, junior Robert Streb, and the trio combines for 67 percent of K-State’s total rounds counted for scoring, having played in every round during the regular season.

“A big part of it is that their games are very sound, so it doesn’t matter where we go,” Norris said of his three anchors. “If we play on a really, really tough golf course in bad conditions, or if we play on an easy golf course in perfect conditions, they’re going to be able to perform. So far, we really haven’t been to a place where they haven’t been able to play well and be consistent. I don’t think that Whispering Pines is going to present any huge challenges to them.”

Kansas State will also look for contributions from two freshmen, Kyle Smell and Daniel Wood, who played their way into the starting rotation with a pair of strong pushes in the final tournaments of the spring.

Wood made every trip for the Wildcats during the spring campaign after making just two appearances in the fall. Wood’s highlight came at the Ron Moore Invitational where he carded a season-low 67 and 2-under 214 while competing as an individual.

Smell, who played extensively in the fall but was used sparingly in the spring, earned his spot with a top-10 finish at the Missouri Tiger Intercollegiate to end the regular season.

Kansas State tees off the first tee at 8:50 a.m. on Friday and is paired with seventh-seed Oklahoma and ninth-seed Iowa State. The Wildcats will play 36 holes Friday, and 18 holes each on Saturday and Sunday with tee times and tee locations to be determined by the previous day’s results. The winner of the Big 12 Championship receives an automatic bid into postseason play.

K-State’s Projected Lineup
1 - Mitchell Gregson - So. - 72.64 - Currently has the 2nd-best scoring avg. in school history
2 - Joe Ida - So. - 72.85 - Impressive sophomore campaign includes a pair of 65s
3 - Daniel Wood - Fr. - 74.95 - Making sixth consecutive trip with the Wildcats
4 - Kyle Smell - Fr. - 75.19 - Strong finish to spring campaign vaulted freshman into lineup
5 - Robert Streb - Jr. - 74.33 - Someone had to be five, but Streb at his best is No. 1

A Glance at the Field
After trading strokes with seven Big 12 teams during the regular season, the K-State Wildcats will encounter the entire conference at the Big 12 Championship at Whispering Pines Golf Club. The Wildcats went 10-4 against Big 12 Conference foes during the 2007-08 season, including a 10-2 mark against the North Division and 0-2 mark against the South Division. The Big 12 Conference boasts four teams inside the top 50 - (5) Oklahoma State, (16) Texas A&M, (27) Texas Tech, and (38) Texas - according to Golfweek’s latest poll, with four others - (60) Colorado, (65) Baylor, (66) Kansas State, (67) Oklahoma - on the fringe. Oklahoma State’s lineup features the top individual in collegiate golf, freshman Rickie Fowler, and No. 39 Trent Leon. The Cowboy duo are two of four Big 12 golfers in the top 50, joined by Texas’ Charlie Holland (35) and Texas A&M’s Ignacio Elvira (49).

Whispering Pines Golf Club
K-State head coach Tim Norris took the Wildcats to Whispering Pines for the 2004 Big 12 Championship where the team finished 10th. Norris thinks his team will have a better time on the course this go around likes the par-72, 7,249 course that was opened in 2000. “It’s tree-lined golf course,” Norris said. “We’ll be playing on Bermuda grass and the course will be in great shape. They say that the greens will be fast for that type of grass. Our job is to go down there and prepare the best we can and just play the golf course. I don’t think it’s going to favor anyone other than the guys who are playing the best golf and can handle whatever is thrown at them.

Last Time Out
Kansas State shot the lowest score in the final round and tied a school-record for most top-five finishes in a season with a second place finish at the Missouri Tiger Intercollegiate on April 8. K-State carded a 295 in the final round, shooting 298-293-295886 (+22) for the tournament, and moved from fifth place to second place over the final 18 holes at The Club at Old Hawthorne. The Wildcats notched their eighth top-five finish and tied the single-season mark held by the 2003-04 team. Mitchell Gregson paced the Wildcats throughout the tournament and led the team with an even-par 72 on the final day. Gregson finished third overall with a 1-over 217 and notched a team-leading fifth top-10 finish. Freshmen Kyle Smell and Daniel Wood joined Gregson in the top-10. Wood finished eighth with a 74-73-74221 (+5) and Smell tied for ninth with a 76-73-73222 (+6). It was the second top-10 finish of the season for both golfers.

Making History
This year’s K-State team has already poked numerous holes in the K-State record books while recording individual and team lows but they might only be getting started. The Wildcats are on pace to break the school scoring mark, averaging just 293.36 strokes per round through 11 events. The 2003-04 K-State team owns the current low annual average at 294.73. Kansas State is one top-5 finish away from breaking that same squad’s school record for top-5 finishes in a season. This year’s team and the 03-04 team have eight top-5 finishes. Individually, K-State’s Mitch Gregson (72.64) and Joe Ida (72.85) are currently in the top-5 for season stroke average.

.500 Rule Shenanigans
With their .724 winning percentage and 113-41-2 win-loss record, the Wildcats are well above the .500 mark. A new rule for 2007-08 mandates that teams must have better than a .500 record to be eligible for postseason play. Seven teams currently ranked ahead of the Wildcats in the latest Golfweek Poll are below .500 and could be sitting out the postseason if they don’t win their conference tournaments. No. 32 NC State is 61-66 overall and the highest-ranked team under .500.