COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It’s been quite an experience
over the past several years for the senior members of the Tennessee
Tech men’s and women’s golf programs.
In the coming week, unless either team wins the conference tournament and advances to the NCAA, seven seniors will complete their playing careers for the Golden Eagles at the Ohio Valley Conference women’s and men’s tournaments. For those players, the end will be quite different than wheat they expected when they embarked upon their careers.
Recruited by Hall of Fame coach Bobby Nichols, who died in March 2008, the women will wrap up their careers for first-year coach Brandy Stout. For the men’s team, this season has been under the direction of first-year coach Craig King.
“I can’t believe it’s been four years,” said Ashley Spangler, a senior from Soddy Daisy, Tenn. “I have so many great memories from our trips. I couldn’t imagine college without golf.
“Things are different than we thought they’d be. I thought my entire career would be played under coach Nichols. His death was something we all had to deal with. I think we’ve all coped with his loss in our own personal ways, and we’ve come out stronger. We all miss him very much, but this year has just been a different experience, and we’re all making the most of it,” she said.
For Spangler, Maegan Sullivan, Carla Hazelwood and Madison Denman, the final scheduled match of 2009 is this Thursday through Saturday at the OVC Women’s Tournament at the Crooked Creek Golf Course in London, Ky.
A couple days later, the men’s team will compete Monday through Wednesday at The Shoals, a course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It’s the final week of play for Greyson Painter, who will play in the event, along with Calvin Clark and Dylan Richards, who will continue their development in practice rounds.
The women’s team will look to regain the form they used to win the APSU Intercollegiate tournament earlier this season. The women have also finished in second place, twice in third places and once in fourth place this season.
“We want to win,” Spangler said. “I’ve been thinking of this tournament all day, every day this year.”
Spangler finished 12th last year to lead Tech at the 2008 OVC Championship, firing a hole-in-one on the final hole of the final day. This season she has the second-best average on the Tech squad at 79.2 and one all-tournament selection. The team leader this spring has been Bradford, a junior Jackson, Tenn., with a 77.1 average and three all-tournament honors.
The Tech men’s team will look to maintain its recent momentum after a third-place finish in the Big Blue Invitational earlier this month in Nashville. The men’s team also has another third place finish, as well as a fourth and sixth place showing this season.
Painter, a fifth-year senior from Carthage, Tenn., is the leading scorer on the 2009 men’s squad, averaging 73.8 strokes with one all-tournament honor.
“I can look back and say that I persevered,” Painter said. “I’ll be able to reflect back on golf and know that I can use these experiences later in life.”
Clark, a senior from Clarkrange, Tenn., has been a regular in the Tech lineup all four years of his career. This season he carries an 81.1 stroke average.
“Each of us has experienced ups and downs, but through everything the leadership, direction and concern for us by our coaches has been constant,” Clark said. “Coach Nichols was a real inspiration, and now coach King is carrying on that tradition. Their friendship is something I will always cherish.”
Neither team has played their respective conference tournament site this season, so both coaches will call upon their seniors for leadership heading into the conference tournaments.
“I want to do really well,” said Denman, a senior from Riverwatch, Tenn. “I’ve been trying hard not to think about it too much. You always have to think positive.”
Sullivan is a fifth-year senior from Gleason, Tenn.
“The memories of these past five years are something I can never replace,” Sullivan said. “First, for coach Nichols, and this year under coach Stout. Both of them always looked out for the players, and did whatever they could to help us improve. They were always concerned about us, not just as golfers, but as students and in our lives.”
As the number of holes dwindles on the careers of Tech’s seniors, the long walk up the final fairway becomes a rite of passage, before that last putt sinks into the bottom of the hole.
“I’ll miss the traveling to tournaments, being a part of the team,” said Hazelwood, a senior from Bolivar, Tenn. “It’s been really great; the team becomes a part of your family.”
Paying for Tech has been a rewarding experience for those who qualified to play nearly every tournament, as well as the seniors who saw little tournament action.
“My experience at Tech was incredible,” said Richards, a senior from Grimsley, Tenn., who was on the roster for three seasons but has played in only two tournaments. “The camaraderie of the team is one of the greatest memories of my golf career. Golf has been my life. Going out to the course, practicing every day, it’s all I would think about.”
While it’s an ending for the senior players, the 2009-10 campaign has been only the beginning for Stout and King.
“This has been a very challenging but rewarding year,” Stout said. “I could not ask for a better group of girls, especially the seniors. They have all shown such great leadership and I wish them the best life has to offer. I know they will excel in all they do.”