May 4, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Nathan Kerns has been here before … well, not exactly, but he knows the feeling.
The NCAA Division I men’s golf championship field will be announced Monday night, and Kerns, the Marshall senior team captain from nearby Ironton, Ohio, has a very good shot at one of 45 individual berths spread over the six May 16-18 regionals.
So, for the defending Ohio Amateur champion, the wait must be like sitting in the scorers’ tent or the clubhouse, waiting for the field to finish -- to learn whether you’ve won or lost.
“It really is like that,” Kerns said Saturday. “You can’t do anything about it. You enter the year hoping for something like this and you have your good days and bad days and there have been more good than bad.
“Hopefully, the (selection) committee sees what I’ve accomplished and gives me one of those 45 spots. It would be a great way to finish my career at Marshall.”
Kerns was named an all-Conference USA first team selection earlier this week – a Thundering Herd first in its eight years in the league. He finished third in the recent C-USA tournament in Texarkana, Ark. – a performance that likely will lift him into the NCAA field.
Going into the conference tournament, Kerns was No. 246 in the national Golfstat.com rankings, which take into account scoring, strength of team opposition, head-to-head play and other factors.
He emerged from the C-USA event at No. 168 and is now one spot lower.
How does that translate into one of 45 NCAA individual regional berths?
Well, when the players on 81 NCAA-qualifying teams are culled from the list, Kerns is left as the 19th-ranked individual player, Herd first-year Coach Matt Grobe said.
“I’d say it’s very likely that Nathan gets a spot,” Grobe said. “There are a few conference tournaments this weekend (Mid-American, Mountain West, Northeast), but there aren’t going to be 25 (players) moving up that could knock Nathan out before Monday.”
Kerns, who ranks 38th nationally in 2012-13 stroke average (71.72) would be tops all-time at Marshall in single-season average if he finishes better than Bosten Miller’s 72.97 set last season.
Kerns also could become the Herd’s career stroke average record-holder. His 74.14 barely trails the 74.0 standard set by Shawn Warren from 2004-07.
“That all kinds of works out in the end,” Kerns said when asked about his potential for those Herd records. “If you go out and play well, you’re going to have a chance at things like that.
“If I have a chance to go to the regionals and I play well, then the possibility is there. But going to the NCAA is the biggest thing to me.”
Kerns has five top-3 finishes and seven top 10s in his senior season. He was ranked in Golfstat’s top 100 players after the fall, but sank just out of the top 250 after the Herd finished last in a 21-team field in late March at the Furman Intercollegiate. Kerns finished tied for 40th there with a final-round 77.
He’s obviously rebounded in the six weeks since that event.
“I don’t think I really changed anything,” Kerns said. “I just go out and play. I think a lot of it was with the cold weather, it was kind of hard to practice. When you’re wearing jackets and layers, it’s hard to get into a good rhythm.
“Irish Creek (the next Herd stop of the schedule) was the first time I played in shorts this year, and that was only for one day. At the conference tournament, it was nice to get into some sunny weather and into a rhythm.”
Grobe said Kerns struggled with the cold spring because “when it’s cold, it’s harder to feel the grip, and that affects your short game most – and that’s a very strong part of Nathan’s game.”
The six division I regionals are scheduled in Tallahassee, Fla; Baton Rouge, La.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Columbus, Ohio; Tempe, Ariz.; and Pullman, Wash.
Although the NCAA committee tries to keep individual players close to home, there’s no guarantee if Kerns is in the field he’ll be playing in his home state’s capital city at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
“You root for the (NCAA) bid first of all, and if I go to Columbus, that’s just added on top, like you hope for one and wish for the other,” Kerns said. “I played the Scarlet Course in the State Tournament (for Ironton High) and I’ve played there a couple of times with friends.
“But it would be great playing there, close to home. We have family there. It would almost be like a home match for me.”
If Kerns is selected Monday, he will be the third Herd player to reach an NCAA regional since Division I went to a regional format in 1989. The previous two were Jonathan Clark in 1996 and Christian Brand in 2011.
Prior to the regional concept, the Herd sent seven players to the NCAA nationals – Jack Freeman (1956), Linden Meade (’58), Pete Byer (’61), Dick Shepard (’65 and ’66), Frank Sexton (’68), Harold Payne (’75 and ’77) and Tom Kies (’88).
MU has qualified as a team five times (1955, ’57, ’62, ’76 and ’93), the last time in a regional.
Kerns said it would be special to become the 10th Marshall individual to reach NCAA play.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s great for the school, for our golf program. It’s why we’re out here.
“It’s great for the Big Green (Scholarship Foundation). They put us out here, and I talked about that (as one of several student-athletes who spoke last week at the Big Green banquet).
“On a personal level, in college golf, you play to go (to the NCAA). It’s the main reason you play, to play in national competition.”
Until Monday night, Kerns is on pins – not the ones marking the cups – and needles.
# # #
The 2013 U.S. Open has a record 9,860 entrants. Three of them will be Marshall golfers, trying to advance through local qualifying to the sectional level on Wednesday.
Herd players Brian Anania, Jake Miller and Logan Lagodich will be among the local-qualifier field for 18 holes at Edgewood Country Club in Kanawha County.
Nationally, only about 550 among 9,000 will advance to sectional qualifying.