Otterbein men's golf team was a hair away from continuing their Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) dominance by winning their 22nd title in 29 years, but COVID-19 will not allow the Cardinals to take the course.
Head coach Brian Booher’s team has not lost the conference championships since he took over in the summer of 2014, and he was confident that streak would continue.
“This was truly the most excited I’ve been going into a spring,” Booher said. “It is the strongest lineup we’ve had … I really felt like they had a good chance to make the cut at nationals and be a top-10 team.”
Booher, who also coaches Otterbein’s women’s golf team, says his program’s strong tradition allows him to recruit quality golfers for his hard-working, team-first culture.
“I look at [recruits’] academics and ability, but the biggest thing is their attitude because that leads to their potential growth,” Booher said.
Once Booher’s recruits are Cardinals, he makes sure they “work harder than anyone in the conference” to maximize their potential and maintain the program’s reputation. Work ethic is especially important for sports like golf that compete during both fall and spring semesters, which is why Booher values having well-organized students on his rosters.
“We identify guys that are team players,” Booher said. “If you want to be noticed as an individual, this is not the program to be in.” Like tennis, bowling, cross country and more, golf has a dichotomy as an individual/team sport that needs to be bridged by a focus on team results.
This year’s seniors, Booher’s first recruiting class, have built the culture he aims for, and their success has proven his system works.
Seniors Tyler Dunfee, Kurt Foreman, Spencer Jordan and Sam Marty were part of three OAC-winning teams and on pace to win a fourth conference title after winning October’s OAC Fall Preview.
Foreman was the OAC individual champion as a sophomore before Marty won the same title the next year after qualifying for the last lineup spot at practice. All four graduating golfers were in the lineup that took the top five spots at the 2019 conference championships.
It is difficult, Booher says, to “keep everyone motivated and give everyone opportunities” when you have so much talent in a program. A challenge Booher looks forward to is teaching his talented golfers, who frequently find themselves on the biggest stages, how to handle the pressures of expectations.
The expectation for this spring was to win the OAC and be a threat at nationals, but Booher sensed that both tournaments would be canceled before the conference, NCAA canceled spring sports on March 12 and, as Marty said, ended his athletic career “on an email.”
“[After receiving the news,] I couldn’t help but think about all the times I would go right after class or right before it’s dark and putt and chip for a little bit,” Marty said. “It was over. I wasn’t going to be able to put to work all the time I put in.”
Athletes want their season to end in victory or hard-fought defeat, not press releases and condolences for missed opportunity. Instead of competing for their last titles, a vast majority of DIII spring-sport seniors are now reflecting on their completed athletic careers because they want to enter the workforce when the semester ends.
Marty, a business analytics major who has had a job lined up since August, said he wished he had a chance to repeat as OAC individual champion, finish in the top 30 at nationals, and make the cut at nationals as a team with his classmates.
“I remember our freshman year ... talking to some of those guys in my class and saying ‘Wow, our senior season, we are all going to be here a lot more experienced. We’ll have a lot to play for our senior year,’” Marty said. “I felt like we had a lot to look forward to for this spring season.”
Despite his missed opportunities, Marty knows what is truly important during this global pandemic.
“Everyone in the world is affected in some way. If the biggest way I’m affected by this is not being able to play golf, I think I’m pretty blessed,” Marty said. “If I can stay healthy, if my family and friends can all stay healthy, I think that’s all that matters.”