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There's No I In College Golf | CSUSM Steps Magazine

It seems like the ultimate individual endeavor: one player with his or her clubs, trying to get a ball with dimples on it into a hole a couple hundred yards away. In college golf it’s a different story.

Five players, each plays his or her own ball. The lowest four individual scores combine for the team score.

So, just go as low as you can and don’t worry about anyone else, right? Well… wrong.

“It is an individual sport, but our focus is coming together as a team,” said Greg Hutton, CSUSM men’s golf head coach. “Without a team concept and believing in each other and having a common goal as a group, you won’t really achieve anything.”

The sentiment is echoed by the women’s head coach, Cindy Naval.

“When our players go out there, they realize that they’re not only playing for themselves, but they’re playing for the group,” she said. “With that in mind, they go out and try that much harder to play and score well.”

The Cougars’ mentality paid off last season, as each program registered historic campaigns in their 15th year of existence.

The CSUSM men finished third at the NAIA National Championships, had two players named All-American, won their first-ever Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) Conference championship and spent the entire year in the top five of the national ranks.

The Cougar women followed suit by winning five tournaments, placing third or higher in five others and finishing fourth in the NAIA National Championships — a program best. Moreover, the Cougars shared the lead through two rounds at the national tournament.

So how do both teams repeat last year’s successes?

Four starting athletes return for the 2013–2014 season, including sophomore Alyssa Waite, junior Vanessa Chap and senior Lisa Copeland. Throw in a couple of competitive freshmen, Taylor Coover and Christina Trujillo, the Cougar women’s lineup appears just as deep as its 2012–2013 counterpart.

“The future looks very bright,” said Naval. “My goal is to continue to bring in freshmen players that will continue to build the team. One thing I love about this group of players is that they all want to play well for each other and they have each other’s backs.”

After debuting at No. 3 in the Golfweek College Preview rankings, Naval’s Cougars won the Embry-Riddle Fall Invite by a whopping 21 strokes in September. Coover won the individual title and Chap finished third.

On the men’s side, sophomores Ryan Odom and Scott Shefflette are the only returners; however, they aren’t your typical underclassmen. As freshmen, Shefflette and Odom competed in every tournament, both were named GCAA/PING All-Americans and they combined for nine rounds in the 60s. 

With a couple of talented freshmen and a NCAA Division I transfer, this team looks poised to compete on the national level. 

Kevin Cline led the Cougars to the team title in September’s California State Intercollegiate, taking home medalist honors in his first collegiate tournament. Fellow freshman Braeden Koran and University of Oregon junior transfer Ben Itterman have showcased the ability to go low early on in the season.

“The expectation of the team is to come together as a group throughout the year and work their tails off to have a chance to win on the final day of the national tournament in Florida,” explained Hutton. “If we do that, then we’ll have a chance to reach the goal of winning a national title.”

Both the men’s and women’s squads will have the entire fall to gel before coming together for a spring season that will decide whether each program gets to compete for their first-ever national championships.

“When you get out there and there are five athletes playing for four scores that count, you always have to believe that you’re doing this for your team. When you’re struggling out there, it’s easy to say as an individual that you’re done. But you’ve got to be able to take a step back and realize that you have four other athletes depending on you. That’s when you get more focused and more determined to be successful out there,” said Hutton.

On every shot, it’s one player, one ball, one club. But more importantly, it’s one team.

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