Joiner one of WKU senior golfers returning for another year
By Dana Brown


Posted on May 5, 2020 10:03 AM



 

Spread out across the country, WKU Golf learned of its fate. The Lady Topper squad was on its spring break trip, six of them relaxing in a condo in Florida on their day off. The men’s team had just split up after an event at the beginning of the week. Some were at home, some were on campus, a few were even together at the first round of The Players Championship. And suddenly, none of them would complete the 2019-20 season.

“They weren’t here, I wasn’t with them, so it really made it difficult,” said men’s golf head coach Chan Metts. “It was just kind of a panic moment for everybody.”

“Obviously the kids had a lot of questions and I didn’t have a lot of answers for them either,” said women’s golf head coach Adam Gary, who had to return from marking the course for WKU’s upcoming event to break the news to the team. “It was kind of a tough time.”

Right when momentum appeared to be shifting to the Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers, the seasons were cut short. The men’s squad had just returned to campus after one of the strongest team performances of the season. They were feeling encouraged.

“We didn’t really have the fall season that we wanted,” said senior captain Tom Bevington. “Throughout February, we just started working even harder than we were before and we had finally just broken some ground with the play that we wanted to at Auburn.”

The women’s team was headed into their very own Spring Break Shootout, an event the team had historically dominated.

Once the dust started to settle, the realization sunk in for many that the seniors in the golf program, and other athletic programs around the country, may or may not get another shot at playing.

 Three of the five seniors between the men’s and women’s golf programs have chosen not to return with the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.

One of the two opting to come back to The Hill for another season is the most successful Lady Topper in program history, Mary Joiner of Franklin. She credits the late Phillip Hatchett for teaching her the fundamentals. The Russellvillian was head coach of the WKU boys team at the time of his untimely death. 

In fact, the programs will return each of their captains: Tom Bevington on the men’s side and Joiner for the women.

When the questions about the extra year of eligibility started circling, Bevington contemplated moving on. “For me, when they first started floating the idea around that we might be able to come back, I didn’t really think much about it,” he said. “Maybe some people, but I didn’t really think I’d come back. But the more you think about it, the more it’s just like ‘why not?’ Nothing is really happening in the world right now, I don’t really know who’s hiring, but not many people. The professional game has kind of stopped, college golf might be more of a solid place to be in the next year or so. Once I realized I had the chance to come and play for Coach (Metts) and play with my teammates again, I didn’t really want to pass that up.”

Joiner, who wished for a stronger senior season to cap her record-breaking career at WKU, is ready to come back and fulfill that dream. “I never really thought about it that hard, I thought ‘Oh that’d be cool’ but never really considered (coming back),” she noted. “I was planning on getting a job, moving somewhere, but then I gave it some more thought. To have the opportunity to play again and finish my season on a better note, it would be really hard to pass up. I’m excited to come back next year and just end on a better note.”

With the eligibility set for the upcoming season, the student-athletes turned a page to decide what to do with this unique time. Golf is one of the lucky sports where a few private and public courses have remained open around the country, readily available for varying types of practice and reps. Some WKU golfers are in areas with open courses, while others haven’t had access until just this week, forcing some creative methods to get work in.

“I have guys that are still going out and hitting their own golf balls, shagging their own balls around, making sure that they’re getting those reps in,” said men’s coach Metts. “That’s really been my message to my guys and to our team.”

“Golf is very fortunate since we still have the golf courses open,” said women’s coach Gary. “Even with technology, I know a lot other players before this pandemic were able to video their swings and send them to coaches. Obviously, they have access to technology and golf courses they can go out on. We’re still able to do most of what we were doing before, just not as a group, not together.”

Joiner was thankful that courses in the Southcentral Kentucky area have stayed open for play but has struggled with certain pieces of her game she’d like to focus and improve on. Due to social distancing limitations, some courses have closed their practice facilities and/or modified their courses to limit contact.

“The weirdest thing for me is, this offseason I wanted to hit my short game really hard and at my country club, there’s no holes, it’s just sticks in the ground,” Joiner said. “I can’t really work on my putting. You can work on speed but that’s about it. It’s been kind of disappointing. I’ve been able to play whenever, but in terms of actually getting those short game reps in, that hasn’t really been available so that’s been frustrating. But I’m still lucky, some of my teammates, all of their courses have been shut down so at least I have some resources.”

Bevington is in an area where practice facilities are closed and golf courses are congested, making reps on the actual course especially limited.

“It’s actually not been particularly easy to get out there,” Bevington admitted. “I have a net in my garden, and I have a mat in my living room, which I’ve been putting on. I’ve been working on my swing in the net, putting in my living room, and I just go and play nine holes whenever there’s a time, in the evening usually, and try and get some reps in that way.”

Gary said, “I think we’re still going to get a lot of good work done and it won’t slow golf down that much.” While the competitive edge between individuals and teams is missing, and the threat of unnecessary tinkering to swings due to boredom and excess time is lingering, Gary and Metts are confident their teams are up to the challenge, and admit, everyone is in the same boat.

“Everybody’s fighting the same battles,” said Metts. “It’s not like there are other college players that are out there able to play competitions. It’s really the same mental aspect that we take into every tournament. Whether it’s raining, you’re playing on greens that aren’t perfect, everybody’s playing on the same golf course. Everybody’s going to be playing under the same conditions in the fall. We have to keep those things in mind.”

 




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