By Corbin McGuire
The initial feeling was bittersweet.
When the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships selection show finished on Wednesday night, K-State’s Roland Massimino, Jeremy Gandon and Jacob Eklund could not help but feel conflicted.
Their names were called, but only after their team’s wasn’t.
All three Wildcats were selected to play as individuals in the NCAA Athens Regional, hosted by the University of Georgia, on May 13-15. It’s the most individuals K-State has ever sent to an NCAA Regional, and it’s only the second time since 2014 that any one program had three individuals selected.
However, it was two people short of what the trio would like to be bringing.
“Definitely bittersweet,” Massimino, a senior and the No. 1-ranked individual at the Athens Regional, said. “We all were disappointed, for sure, that we didn’t make it as a team. We definitely would have liked to go as a team, but it’s awesome to go individually. A lot of hard work has paid off by making it here, so I’m pretty excited to be going individually.”
Gandon knows the feeling. He will be making his second NCAA Regional appearance, as the senior qualified last year after sharing the Big 12 individual title. He made that trip without any teammates, however, which gave him some solace about this year’s opportunity.
“This year I won’t feel as alone,” he said.
Eklund, a junior, only played in one fall tournament this season. He finished that tournament last on his team and 42nd overall. So, for him, getting into his first NCAA Regional individually was an exciting accomplishment that required a significant turnaround in his game. He did so with a 70.67 scoring average in the spring to go with three top-five finishes.
“I know I didn’t have that good of a fall. The first thing I did before the (spring) season started was I sat down with Coach (Grant Robbins) and told him that I was going to go to Regionals,” Eklund said. “I kind of meant that as a team — obviously, I wish we were going as a team — but I have to take it as I get it. Hopefully I take advantage of this huge opportunity and see what I can make out of it.”
As bittersweet as it was, initially, being the first school left out of the NCAA Championships, it was a step forward for the program that has not been to a Regional as a team since 2009.
The Wildcats recorded the best team scoring average (285.86) in program history, topping the previous record by about 3.5 strokes. K-State’s spring average was 284.24, paving the way to five top-four finishes in its last five regular season outings. This included the program’s first tournament title since 2012. The Wildcats also finished seventh at the Big 12 Championship, only five strokes from third place in a conference that sent nine teams to Regionals, including three of the six No. 1 seeds.
“We had a really good spring. We’ve been beating a lot of the teams (ranked) ahead of us all spring. There were teams ahead of us we beat by a lot at the (Big 12) tournament,” Gandon said, as K-State topped seventh-seeded Iowa State and Kansas by nine and 13 strokes, respectively, along with besting No. 9-seed West Virginia by 17 strokes at the Big 12 Championship. “The next generation is just going to build on that. Jake and Ben (Fernandez) will be returning next year, so it’s definitely encouraging for the future.”
Individually, Massimino currently holds the program’s top single-season scoring average, at 70.96, while Eklund sits right behind him at 71.50. Gandon and Fernandez sit sixth and seventh, respectively, giving this K-State team four of the program’s top seven scoring averages for a season ever. No other Wildcat team has more than two in the top 14.
“We made huge, huge strides in the last few years, so it’s been cool to see,” Massimino said. “We created a really good culture this spring, a winning culture that we went out there with every weekend and expected to compete. That’s something I think they can carry over. It’s kind of just an expectation now, which we didn’t really have before. I think that’s a really positive thing and something they can build off of for next year.”
“It’s just crazy. From the time I came in as a freshman to now, the culture’s completely different, the team atmosphere is completely different,” Eklund added. “We’re really all brothers. I think that speaks to how much hard work every single person on this team has put in. There’s no one guy that wants it more than the other. We all want it as bad as the other. It’s crazy how much we’ve excelled. I’m really looking forward to the future.”
Source: Kansas State Sports