The stain of last year’s finish at the Big Sky Championships has stuck with the Sacramento State men’s golf team for all year.
The Hornets were up four strokes heading into the final round before Idaho improved its second round score by 18 strokes to shoot a tournament low of 271 in the third round to win the tournament and clinch the lone automatic bid to an NCAA Regional that the Big Sky receives.
Second-year Sac State coach Kamden Brakel knew what needed to be worked on. Brakel said that the Hornets needed to stay consistent no matter where they were playing and integrate Wonje Choi, a transfer from San Diego State University, into the lineup.
Sac State, led by seniors Aaron Beverly and Robert Parden, finished in the top five in five tournaments this season before the Big Sky Championships. However, none of those ended with a team or player victory.
During the rainy season after finishing in the bottom half of the Pro Compression Invitational (Feb. 13-14) at Rancho Sante Fe, Brakel made a point in practice to change the mentality of the team.
Brakel brought the team out to Ancil Hoffman Golf Course with the players thinking it would just be a meeting, but he had them do two hours of putting drills in the pouring rain.
“It was frustrating at the time,” Beverly said. “Kamden saw the importance of enduring the adverse conditions because it would only make us better. He always wanted us to work harder than everyone else because he knew that’s how we would win.”
The Hornets improved from there and had solid finishes at the Sacramento State Invitational (March 6-7), the Border Olympics (March 10-11) and the Cowboy Classic (April 10-11) to head into the Big Sky Championships.
The consistent play of Beverly, Parden and Choi led the trio to being named to the all-Big Sky first team with Beverly winning golfer of the year in the conference.
Beverly, a two-time Big Sky Golfer of the Year (2016, 2017), is currently ranked the 40th best golfer in the country by golfstat.com and sits at an average round of 71, which sets a school record that he accomplished a season ago.
“I think that it comes down to his patience and not getting too carried away with the first round,” Brakel said. “This year he has been really steady on all his rounds. I think that is an important part.”
Having three players receive first-team honors was the most in the conference and the Hornets entered the Big Sky Championships feeling like they should win it, Parden said.
“I knew that if myself and Aaron played well that we would have a pretty good chance to win,” Parden said. “We knew we were going to be the heavy favorites the whole year. We played bad in some tournaments but we knew if we played our game, we could win.”
After the first round of the tournament, Sac State fell behind by one stroke, but during the second round, the trio shined. Beverly shot two-under par, Parden one-under and Choi three-under as the Hornets took an 18-stroke lead heading into the final round.
“I think I’m the most level-headed person on the team,” Parden said. “I just told the guys to relax and play our games and if we play hard on the front nine, we can enjoy the walk on the back nine.”
The Hornets led by double-digit strokes the entire back nine to win the championship and advance to the Stanford NCAA Regional from May 15-17. This was the first time Sac State has won a conference crown since 2012 as a member of the America Sky Conference.
The final round was more about how the Hornets would finish individually, which remained uncertain. Beverly had been in competition with Coby Welch of Northern Colorado the entire tournament before Beverly pulled away and won the individual championship by a single stroke. Parden caught up and finished in a tie for second place with Welch, while Choi finished in fifth place, two shots behind Beverly.
Following the Big Sky Championships, Brakel was named the Big Sky Men’s Golf Coach of the Year. According to Beverly, Brakel knew when to push the team to help them in the long run.
“That competitive spirit was huge for us all year, especially at the Big Sky Championship,” Beverly said. “Without a doubt in my mind, he deserves coach of the year because he worked hard for it.”