May 13, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Nathan Kerns is only the third Marshall golfer to qualify for an NCAA regional in the last quarter-century. Has that sunk in for the senior from Ironton, Ohio?
“To be honest, no,” said Kerns, who will tee it up Thursday for the start of 54 holes in the Columbus Regional at Ohio State’s long and tight Scarlet Course. “As an athlete, you get caught up in the moment, and it’s about moving on to the next step.
“It’s one of those things that when you finally have a chance to look back and think about it, you do appreciate it. I haven’t had much time to think that, and I didn’t want to think that, really, because I’m not content with where I am.”
Kerns will be among 13 teams and 10 individuals in his home-state regional, trying to move on from the Thursday-Saturday event to the May 28-June 2 NCAA nationals at the Capital City Club in Atlanta.
Nobody said that would be easy. Only the low five teams and low individual not on those qualifying teams – not necessarily an individual regional participant like Kerns – will advance from each of six regionals.
“You really can’t predict what’s going to happen,” said Kerns, who follows Jonathan Clark (1996) and Christian Brand (2011) as Herd NCAA participants in the last 25 years. “You look at the qualifiers and it’s tough to say who’s going to come out of there. My goal is to go up and win or if not, finish second (as the top individual participant), and if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.
“I’ve got to play the course to give my putter a chance, because that’s my strength.”
Kerns has played the Buckeyes’ Scarlet Course in the Ohio high school tournament for Ironton and again as a Herd junior in the Kepler Invitational. For the NCAA regionals, it will play at 7,286 yards and a par 71.
“What I’ve heard about this course is it really doesn’t fit anybody’s game,” first-year Marshall men’s Coach Matt Grobe said when asked if Kerns’ game is tailored to the OSU layout. “It’s a really, really tough golf course, a long course, a tight course. You usually don’t see long and tight together.
“Usually, if it’s a long course, they give you plenty of room to hit it everywhere. If it’s tight, then it’s not real long. And it’s very rare you find someone who can negotiate long and tight together very well.
‘I think that might play into Nathan’s hands because it might become a putting and chipping contest for those that do the best job of scoring under those types of conditions. For Nathan, the main thing is to not get flustered. You know other people are going to hit bad shots, it’s getting past that and realizing that no matter when it happens, you’ve got to recover and move on.”
Kerns finished third in the Conference USA championships last month and is the reigning Ohio Amateur champion. He’ll defend that title July 8-12 at Brookside Country Club in Canton. He said patience will be crucial on the Scarlet layout.
“In my earlier years at Marshall, I felt like I was really good with the driver, and my irons kind of held me back,” Kerns said. “This year, my driver has been all over the place, but I’ve tried to work that out and it’s come around for the most part.
“Coach Grobe is right when he says this course in long and tight, and if I can put it in position to set things up for a good short game, it will help me. It’s going to be a grinder’s course. The people who can keep grinding will do well.
“Everybody in the field is going to make a bogey, maybe more, so the key is making a bunch of pars. On this course, par is still a very good score. It’s going to be a good test.”
Kerns is No. 7 among the 10 individual seeds at Ohio State, and his first-round tee time will be between 9:40 and 10:20 a.m. Thursday. He’ll play a practice round Wednesday, but his mental preparations have been underway since he learned last Monday night that he’d gotten into the national field with 81 teams and 44 other individuals.
“I think for Nathan, the key thing is to just be Nathan,” Grobe said. “We came out of the winter and I think maybe he had been sitting on his great fall for so long, I think maybe he felt like he had to come out and be somebody different than Nathan Kerns.
“I think what he saw was, the way he plays golf, using his short game is his strength. So, when he gets into trouble, he’s real quick to put it into wedge distance to get up and down. That’s him and that’s why he’s a great player.
“What Nathan’s got to remember when we get out there is don’t necessarily watch what others are doing, but stick to what he does best, which is putting the ball around the hole and scoring better than everybody else. That’s got to be his goal.”
Although Kerns hasn’t played competitively since the April 23 final round of the C-USA Championship – a round of 68 that likely clinched his NCAA berth – he said the 3 1/2 week break without collegiate competition won’t be an issue for him.
“I think what you do is stay in competition with yourself and the golf course,” Kerns said. “Yeah, maybe I’ve just been out there playing games with my dad and my buddies, but when I get out there and step on the first tee on Thursday, I’ll be a competitor.
“That’s how I am. That’s my mentality, like it was last summer (when he won three titles). If you can’t gear it up for that -- and especially for an NCAA -- then stay home.”
Kerns was the Herd’s 2012-13 team captain and lone senior, and Grobe said the Ohioan matured as a leader during the spring season – and that aided his game.
“Back in the fall, I don’t think Nathan had much of an idea what to do or say,” Grobe said. “In the spring, he’s done a much better job putting his arm around guys, talking with them and helping them, and a lot of their success was because Nathan took time with them, whether on the driving range or the putting green.
“All of that, I think, kind of propelled him, made him more mature.”
Grobe said Kerns is one of those players “who just gets better the more he plays.” Kerns agreed with that.
“When you talk about I’m only the third in 25 years (to make an NCAA golf regional from Marshall), that obviously makes this a very rare occasion,” Kerns said, “and to be there with players like Jonathan Clark and Christian Brand means a lot.
“I’m going out to represent Marshall the best I can. I think what (reaching the NCAA) shows is I had a good year. I tried not to get too up or too down, tried to keep things on an even keel.
“For that, I give credit to 10 other guys, my teammates, and to Coach Grobe. They’ve been part of this. They’ve helped me. I’ll be out there representing them, too.
“I’m proud to be in the NCAA, but I want to go another step. That’s why you play.”