Oct. 1, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall’s long-hitting men’s golf team is playing over par of sorts, in a really good – almost unprecedented -- way.
When the Thundering Herd won the John Piper Intercollegiate title on Sept. 16-17 in Bowling Green, Ohio, it was the first Herd team title since the 2000 Kingsmill Invitational in Williamsburg, Va.
However, coach Matt Grobe’s team hadn’t yet really dug its spikes deeper into the Herd record book.
With a team title Sunday at the Patriot Intercollegiate over the 7,102-yard Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va., Marshall has two championships in the same season for only the third time in the history of a program dating to 1949.
Grobe has several veterans on the roster, led by senior Brian Anania of Hurricane, but there seems little question in the second-year coach’s mind that two newcomers – freshmen Clark Robinson of South Windsor, Conn., and Will Evans of Charleston – who have lifted the program to title trips.
Robinson, of South Windsor, Conn., shot a final-round, 5-under-par 66 to win the Patriot individual title and lead the Herd.
“I think there’s no doubt about it,” Grobe said when asked if an enhanced depth has helped carry the Herd. “I think (retired) Coach (Joe) Feaganes put together a really good core group of guys and we’ve been able to add a couple of freshmen who came in here and really surprised us, to be honest with you.
“We thought they could come in here and help us get better and provide depth at the back of the lineup. I never envisioned they’d so quickly come in and be part of the team, be in the top five in every event we’ve played, and really finish our tournaments so strong.
“On Sunday at Laurel Hill, our freshmen shoot 66 (Robinson) and 71 (Evans). The week before, they shot 70 and 71 … really helped us win those championships.”
Two team titles in one season last happened 23 years ago -- in October 1990, when the Herd won the EKU Fall Classic in Richmond, Ky., and the Rhododendron Classic (formerly the West Virginia Intercollegiate) at Glade Springs.
The two in 1990 were back-to-back – with a qualifier.
The final day of the EKU event (Oct. 7) was the opening day of the Glade Springs tourney. Feaganes played his top five in Kentucky to defend that title by three shots over Eastern (the Herd also won there in ’89). Feaganes played backup five at Glade, where the Herd still won over other state and regional programs by a 22-stroke margin.
The Herd also won twice in 1977 – its only Marshall Invitational title (at Guyan), and the West Virginia Intercollegiate, which was played that year at the old Spring Valley Country Club. Those events were also back-to-back titles, in the first week of April (all play was in springtime then).
Grobe said the depth on his roster has created more competition in intrasquad qualifying as well – not to mention make it tougher for him to select his five-man lineup for each event. Robinson finished in a tie for 10th as an individual at the Piper, while senior Jeremy Rogers tied for fourth playing outside the team five at the Patriot.
Sophomore Logan Lagodich finished tied for third and tied for eighth in the two championships for the Herd. Anania had ties for seventh and 11th in the two team triumphs.
“Jeremy (Rogers) didn’t even go to Bowling Green,” Grobe said. “He’s a three-year guy, in his senior season, and he didn’t play well enough in the Joe Feaganes Marshall Invitational and qualifying after that to go to Bowling Green.
“He came back and qualified and he’s playing great golf right now, and ends up finishing fourth this week as an individual.
“I think what we’re finding -- which is kind of nice to have -- is a lot of times you roll individuals out to get them experience. We’re rolling individuals who have a chance to compete in tournaments and it makes you feel you’re at least six, maybe even seven, deep. And we haven’t been that way.”
Grobe hopes that the early emergence of Robinson and Evans will steer more talent to the program he inherited from his former coach, Feaganes, after the latter’s iconic 40-year run.
“I think it helps us in recruiting, but I think it actually hurts me a little bit,” Grobe said, smiling. “Because now I’m so critical of who we can find who can come in and help us out immediately, that I’ve kind of set the bar for incoming freshmen with Clark and Will – and that’s going to make it really tough to recruit.
“But I think when people see these freshmen came in and played so early… I think that’s good in any sport when kids who are in high school can look out ahead and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a chance to go there and play, and we’ve got a chance to win tournaments.’”
Marshall has won 18 team tournament championships, including Mid-American Conference crowns in 1962 and ’66. The latter of those, Feaganes also played his way to the individual title for the Herd.
Robinson’s 66 Sunday to cap a 3-under 210 (72-72-66) for 54 holes has been topped by only one round in Herd history. Linden Meade’s run to the 1958 MAC individual title at Kalamazoo, Mich., included a 63.
There have been no Herd 64s or 65s, and only seven 66s prior to Robinson’s Patriot round. The last of those came at the home course at Guyan Golf & Country Club, in the 2011 Marshall Invitational by Bosten Miller.
“I will tell you that 66 by Clark is one of the most impressive rounds of golf I’ve ever seen,” said Grobe, a longtime club pro before moving to Marshall. “That course did not seem to have a 66 in it, and that’s what kind of shocked me.
“He got off to great start – I kind of roam around and see the kids in various locations – and the first time I saw Clark was at No. 5 and he made birdie and said, ‘Coach, I’m 3-under.’ I said, ‘Great, keep it up.’ But in the back of your mind as a coach, you’re almost preparing for the worst.
“Maybe a bad hole is on the horizon, but I’m thinking at least he got under par enough … Well, the next time I see him, Clark’s still 3-under. Next time I see him, he birdies and he’s 4-under. And I’m thinking this has a chance to be a really good round.
“But the last three holes at Laurel Hill are really tough, so I’m thinking he’ll have trouble staying at minus-4. And he ends up making par on a tough par-3 (215-yard No. 16), makes par on a tough par-4 at No. 17 (365 with bunkered fairway).
“On 18 (589-yard par 5), he hits a low 3-iron to 5 feet and has a 5-foot putt to shoot 65, and lips it out for a 5-under 66 … just absolutely impressive.”
It seems Robinson even impressed himself.
“It’s funny,” Grobe said, “because when I got to him on the 16th hole, one of the very first things Clark says to me is, ‘Coach, golf would be the greatest game ever if you could play like I’m playing right now, every day. I’ve never had more fun on the golf course.’”
His teammates and coach could share in those title-taking sentiments, too.