The Maneater

Veteran leadership backed by historic success leads club golf in another national championship run

Founded just five years ago, the team is already one of the most successful club sports at Mizzou.

Missouri student Dillon Eaton celebrates winning the spring national title last April in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Courtesy of Mizzou Club Golf

Missouri’s club golf team first came into existence in the spring of 2012. In the fall of that same year, it gained membership in the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA). A year later, the team won the fall 2013 NCCGA Central Region title, and it hasn’t looked back since.

Four years and eight semester-long seasons later, the club wrapped up its ninth straight regional title on Oct. 15, part of a run of success that goes back to the team winning the fall 2014 NCCGA national championship in a tie with Clemson University. On Oct. 29, the team confirmed that it would once again compete in this fall’s national tournament, held Dec. 1-3 in Las Vegas.

“Every time we go to nationals, every semester we go, we try to win,” club president Clayton Voss said. “Since we’ve won in the past, we know we have the talent to do it.”

If Mizzou wins again this December, it will likely be with a heavy contribution from junior Dillon Eaton, the reigning individual national champion from last spring.

“Dillon is usually our best player,” senior Bret Cigelnik said. “It keeps everyone motivated because everyone is always trying to beat him, so hopefully that will motivate us to shoot lower scores at nationals this year.”

Eaton, who also serves as the club treasurer, estimates that he has been playing golf competitively since the eighth grade. He had hopes of competing at the NCAA level before suffering an injury in his junior year of high school that hurt his chances of landing a scholarship. He played club golf at South Carolina for his first semester of college before transferring to Missouri.

“Going into [the fall 2016 national tournament], I thought my game was in really good shape and just didn’t play as well as I would have liked to,” Eaton said. “Last semester, I just really focused on that month before nationals, really prepping hard to be ready for it.”

Eaton’s hard work paid off when he topped the 247-player field last April to claim the national title, but he still has his eyes on improving upon Mizzou’s 11th-place finish in the team standings.

“We’ve been known to have good regular seasons and then get into nationals and not perform the way we’d like to,” Eaton said. “I’d like to leave nationals feeling like our team played as well as we’re capable of.”

Club golf competitions consist of two-round tournaments made up of teams of eight golfers. The top five scores from each round for each team are combined to calculate an overall team score. While NCCGA competition is officially co-ed, Missouri and most other teams around the country are predominantly male. Club golf’s national competitions are traditionally dominated by schools from the southern part of the country, who, unlike Missouri, enjoy year-round golf-friendly weather. However, senior Cigelnik sees a possible advantage for the Tigers hidden in this difficulty.

“Our scores at the regionals aren’t as [good] as other scores, say in the West or the South [Regions], because our conditions are a little tough,” he said. “[As a result], we’re usually projected [to do] not that well, but we finish way better than what we should.”

The regionals are a two-tournament series that makes up the club golf regular season. Mizzou won both Central Region tournaments this fall, outshooting schools such as Kansas, Missouri State and Saint Louis University. The Tigers’ region-winning scores were enough for a runner-up finish in Zone 3, a broader geographical grouping set by the NCCGA that determines nationals qualification.

“[It’s] pretty much the same core group returning from the last two semesters, where we placed top-five and top-15 [as a team at nationals],” Voss said. “So we have pretty high expectations.”

Although the tournament roster is likely to be veteran-heavy, the team employs a merit-based system to set its competitive teams.

“At the beginning of semesters, we have a tryout process,” Voss said. “Generally, our goal is to keep 24 people … Each week [during the season], we have a weekend round on Sunday … and we track everybody’s scores, which goes into your semester average.”

Once the postseason rolls around, the top eight average scores from these practice rounds are selected for the nationals roster.

“We’ve had a pretty core group of guys that, despite it being a club sport, genuinely care about it,” Eaton said. “Despite having classes and other things going on, [they] put enough effort in to see the team be successful continually. I think that’s definitely the biggest factor to see [in our annual success].”

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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