As spring arrives, golfers look to break out of slump

Chris Bils

It has been a tough spring to be a golfer in Ohio. The brutal winter has kept grass from greening up and temperatures and wind speeds have been far from mild. Most casual golfers have stayed indoors well into April.

Unfortunately for the Ashland men’s golf team, staying inside has meant hitting off mats instead of grass and putting on indoor practice greens instead of the real thing. The poor weather has led to lackluster results for a team that was firing on all cylinders at the end of the fall season.

“We haven’t put in the time needed, but we haven’t had a lot of time,” sophomore Eric Dowiatt said. “We’re still shaking off the rust a little bit.”

After finishing fourth out of six teams at the Tiffin Invitational in South Carolina on March 14-15 and earning a tie for second out of 11 teams in the Saginaw Valley Invitational on March 22-23, the Eagles had poor showings against stiff competition at their last two tournaments that caused them to plummet in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional rankings.

Ashland shot 607 and finished tied for eighth out of 13 teams at the Wisconsin-Parkside Invitational on March 30-31. Last weekend, the Eagles were 13th out of 29 teams with a score of 614 at The Jewell at Elks Run.

After beginning the spring season ranked No. 4 in the region, Ashland sank to No. 8 heading into last weekend’s tournament. The top 10 teams make it to Super Regionals, and the Eagles are going to need strong showings in each of their last two tournaments to be considered for one of those spots.

While AU’s golfers are frustrated by the poor weather and lack of practice time, they are not blaming it for their struggles.

“There are a bunch of teams up North who have the same problem as we do,” senior Ryan Hassman said.

Last weekend, Dowiatt and Hassman were the leading scorers for the Eagles. Dowiatt shot 149 (74-75) to tie for 15th place and Hassman tied for 24th with a score of 151 (76-75).

Still, they know those scores are far from their potential and from what they need to be shooting to help the team succeed.

 Dowiatt is putting himself in position, but the lack of practice time is hurting his touch around the greens. Wedge shots are not accurate enough, and when they are his putting is not where it needs to be.

“I’m shooting 74 or 75, and I’m 100 yards out not making birdie half the time,” he said. “I don’t want to say I’m anywhere near 50 percent, but to not hit it within 15 feet for me 80 yards away is terrible. I get mad.”

Hassman believes much of the team needs to work improve its putting over the next two weeks in order to see results. That could be difficult considering the Ashland area was hit with more rain earlier this week.

“It’s tough, “ he said. “It’s tough getting your feel down for short game stuff.”

Mental mistakes have also been a leading contributor to dropped shots. Dowiatt had four double bogeys last weekend that he says were the direct result of four bad swings, and Hassman was two-over par heading into his last three holes Saturday before he hit one “terrible” shot that sent him into a tailspin which resulted in three straight bogeys and a first-round 76.

With a Saturday score of 310, the Eagles were sure they would be near the bottom and were pleasantly surprised to fall near the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, they failed to improve much on that standing the second day.

At this weekend’s Great Lakes Regional tournament at Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind., Ashland will need to cut out silly mistakes.

“Next week is going to determine if we go to Super Regionals,” Dowiatt said. “If we fall back even farther with only one tournament left I don’t know if we can make that climb.”

Beyond that, it is survive and advance for the Eagles. Should they make it through to Super Regionals, one strong showing could earn them a spot at the National tournament. That would mean finishing in the top four of a field even stronger than the one they faced last weekend.

“Right now, no one would even think of Ashland going to Nationals the way we have been playing, Dowiatt said. “But we played that course in the fall. We finished third out of the same field. We can make it to Nationals.”