Oct. 29, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It’s no accident that Nathan Kerns is on par – pardon the pun, please – to set a record in a Marshall men’s golf program that has been consistently home to some of the Mountain State’s top players.
An accident? That came earlier.
Kerns, a senior from Ironton, is the reigning Ohio Amateur champion. He followed up a big summer and started his final Herd season with a sparkling fall, playing 18 under par over five fall tournaments, with a stellar stroke average of 70.6 for his 15 rounds.
If Kerns can sustain that through the spring – or even with a few more bogeys thrown in -- he will wipe out the Marshall single-season stroke average record of 72.94, set by Bosten Miller last season.
“I think it’s been a number of things, not just one part,” Kerns said when asked what led to his improvement from his own 74.12 average as a junior last season. “I haven’t always had the ability to put everything together at once, and now I’m starting to get into a little rhythm and get some confidence and everything is kind of clicking.”
He also has a shot at the Marshall career stroke average record, which is 74.0, by Shawn Warren from 2004-07. Kerns heads into his final spring at 74.29. The schedule resumes in early March at the Davidson (N.C.) Invitational.
Kerns’ tournament finishes this fall were at 11, 8, 2 and 1 under par, and 4 over.
Kerns, 21, said that winning the Mid-Ohio Invitational and then his home state Amateur title this summer made him a different player, because of the confidence factor.
“It’s a big part of it,” Kerns said. “Some of the tournaments I competed in, I was fortunate enough to win, and the competition there was about the same, maybe even better than at the college tournaments.
“So, to get out there and show my game at that level, I knew I could bring it to the college level. It was just a matter of doing it.”
The lanky Kerns played under par in 10 of his 15 fall rounds under new MU Coach Matt Grobe. The Ohioan had finishes of second (Marshall Invitational) and tied for a second, third and eighth.
In his game, Kerns said his iron play was the difference, “just being able to give myself a chance to make a putt … just being smarter with them, not trying to fire at everything and picking my spots, giving myself chance to make some putts.”
What might be most impressive about Kerns’ potential for the Herd season stroke average record is the fact that it could come in a program that boasts 13 players who have won West Virginia Amateur titles, and eight men who have won West Virginia Open crowns.
The names include Pat Carter (the Herd’s volunteer assistant coach), Jonathan Clark, Harold Payne, Steve Fox, Christian Brand, Scott Davis, Barney Thompson, Brad Westfall, Linden Meade, Danny Warren and Tim Fisher.
“I just want to take it one tournament at a time, one round at a time,” Kerns said when asked about sustaining his fall scoring for a possible Herd record. “It would be a terrific honor. It shows consistent play throughout the whole year and not just a couple of times. But there’s still a lot of golf to play.
“I’ve got to stay focused, give it more of an effort this offseason and practice hard. I think I played a little better than I expected (this fall), especially with my season having started in a car accident.
“I kind of got back into that rhythm again and I didn’t want to set any limits on myself, didn’t want to say, ‘Let’s just finish top five.’ I just wanted go out and play my game and see if it was good enough.”
Ah, the accident ... it nearly shelved Kerns for 2012-13. There was some talk of him redshirting, but Grobe suggested that considering the great summer and momentum the senior had, a year off might not be the best option.
“About a week and a half or two weeks before the (Sept. 10-11) Marshall Invitational, I was going 60 (mph) and hit the back of a dump truck on (U.S.) 52,” Kerns said. “I had a concussion and a fractured (right) orbital bone.
“It took me about a week, week and a half to get back, and played only nine holes before the Marshall Invitational. That’s all I could get in.”
Kerns flunked the concussion test the first time he took it. Once he was cleared, Grobe told Kerns’ teammates that if the senior was able to play in the 43rd Marshall Invitational at Guyan Country Club, he would. That “only nine holes” he played prior? Kerns shot a 36.
Kerns said he didn’t expect to play so well so soon after the crash, when he went 8-under at Guyan for a second MI finish.
“Yeah, because the short game is always the thing that comes back last, I think, when you take a long break,” he said. “I putted, I chipped really well in the Marshall Invitational. I just think I grasped the whole aspect of you can play the hole, you’ve done this, you’ve seen it many times, you’ve seen the putts, you know what they’re going to do. Just have the confidence and stroke you need.”
And in his own mind, Kerns finished strong. Asked which of his 15 Marshall fall rounds he thought was best, he chose the third and final one Tuesday in the Old dominion/Outer Banks Invitational at the par-72 Kilmarlic Golf Club in Powells Point, N.C.
“I shot 68 (following 73-74 to finish at 1-under 215), but I thought I played better than the score showed,” Kerns said. “It was 4-under, but it could have been a lot better. I just didn’t have the putter rolling that day to get into a comfort zone with it like I normally can. But still, a 4-under is a good score for the day.”
It’s the kind of score that can point toward a school record.