Viking golfers feel prepared to face internal challenges

Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor

Junior Kevin Verrill practices putting and driving Tuesday at the Stonebridge Golf Club in Rome. Berry’s only home competition of the school year will be the Chick-Fil-A Invitational at the end of October, and this year, Head Coach Brian
Farrer is focused on generating a crowd of Berry community members and students to cheer on their classmates. Bear Luke | Campus Carrier

The Vikings’ appearance at the women’s golf invitational at Transylvania University on Labor Day weekend is notable for two reasons. First, senior Tegan Fritts started off the year by earning the best score of all individuals. 

Second, the NCAA’s new live scoring system, Spikemark, crashed in the middle of the opening weekend of college golf, forcing all student athletes to revert back to paper scorecards and leaving athletic department administration and parents hanging. 

According to Brian Farrer, head coach of Berry’s golf programs, the association switched to Spikemark in August, seemingly out of the blue, from its live scoring website since the early 2000s, Golfstat. The NCAA is temporarily partnering with Golfstat until Spikemark gets its app up and running again, which Farrer said will need be before rankings come out in mid-October. Farrer said that while Golfstat could have polished up its user interface, ultimately it was reliable.

“The platform is nice,” Farrer said of the new Spikemark. “But at the end of the day, it’s got to work.”

Charles Kyle, junior, feels the same way about the team culture on the men’s golf team.

Kyle came to Berry because of the tight-knit community he saw on campus, and he found a similar family atmosphere on the team. Tournament opponents make negative remarks about someone on the same collegiate team, yet Kyle said he hangs out with at least half of his teammates off the course. 

Farrer also noted that the men’s team cohesion has been at an all-time high in recent golf seasons.

“I really like their demeanor on the golf course, their respect for each other,” Farrer said. “When another hits great shots, there’s celebration there.”

This camaraderie encourages players to stick around when they could get discouraged from not getting to compete due to the team’s large roster, which is maxed out at 15 players this year. For example, Berry’s top spot at the Greystone Invitational last weekend did not travel with the team last season.

However, Kyle admits that this camaraderie can also be a motivational challenge for the team.  While internal competition can feel cutthroat at other schools, Berry players have felt less pressure to improve.

This year, with five freshmen and two transfers, the bar to qualify for tournaments has risen. Junior Jack Stafford did not play in the top five at Greystone after traveling to every game since he’s been at Berry. Fellow juniors Kyle and Jay Sanders are the most seasoned players on the team, which has no seniors.

Kyle said the Vikings have looked good on paper since he has been at Berry, but having added talent and depth on the roster could give them the missing piece needed to win their first Southern Athletic Association (SAA) title for the first time since 2015.

“This year, we have those pieces that can be brought in and, you can put them into the four- or five-man in the lineup when somebody is struggling or isn’t there,” Kyle said. “I think that could be our next step.”

The men landed last of the four travel roster teams at Greystone, including Piedmont University, Huntingdon College and conference opponent Oglethorpe University. However, Kyle said they showed resilience by dramatically improving scores across rounds. The Vikings ended up only 12 strokes behind Oglethorpe, invitational winner and nationally ranked no. 7 in the pre-season.

“It is very difficult to follow up another round after you play bad, to play well the next time, and I think that shows a lot, to see that bounce back, that something coach really appreciates,” Kyle said.

Kyle expects the men’s attitudes will reflect the more serious environment at the Gate City Invitational on Monday and Tuesday. The entire team competed at Greystone, but only the top five will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, for Gate City.

While the men’s team is hoping to overcome their motivational challenge with this year’s fresh talent, the women’s golf team is coming back from a re-building year with a close bond and improved mentality toward the game.

Except for one freshman, all of the team’s 8-woman roster this year are returners from last season. Sophomore Sydney Bowes said that she and her teammates are overall a young team, half of them being sophomores, but she said the returning status gives them a chance to grow more, and at the same pace.

Sophomore Kristina Clay practices putting and driving Tuesday at the Stonebridge Golf Club in Rome.

“That’s something that’s really special and I hope that gives us a lot of power over some of these other teams and programs that we go against,” Bowes said.

Last year, the women finished fifth in the conference. Farrer said the 2021 season, with graduating team members who set record lows, was tough to follow. The team also lacked depth and made simple mistakes, according to Farrer.

The women finished fifth at Transylvania this month, but Farrer said the team is already making more mature, upperclassmen decisions, in part due to a less analytical mindset toward the game.

Bowes said the ladies’ internal harshness creates a negative mental space. She tied for the second-best individual score in the women’s 2023 Southern Athletic Association (SAA) championship, which she credits to a mental reset that improved her performance last spring.

“When you almost stop focusing on the scores and the numbers, you could actually finally just relax, just play golf, and just keep focusing on getting better and in each shot rather than the end goal,” Bowes said.

To win the first conference championship since 2018, the women know they have to shoot scores in the low 70s as much as possible, which involves having a good third and fourth spot like sophomore Amanda Milner, who shot the team’s lowest score of 76 at Transylvania.

The women travel to Huntingdon College next weekend for their second competition of the fall. Without graduate assistants this season, the men’s and women’s teams will travel on separate weekends except when playing at the same site. 

Farrer is working to gather a crowd from The Spires and Berry to cheer on his teams at the golf program’s only home competition of the year, the Chick-Fil-A Invitational, for the first time. Sydney said the ladies thrive from having support of their community, and Kyle agreed.

“You’re unaware of how it will affect you until it’s there,” Kyle said. “It fires you up [and] it puts a smile on your face.”

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