Monday, February 4, 2013

Bears Women's Golfers Return Experienced and Committed in 2013

Mercer Head Coach Gary Guyer eyes the shot of junior Mary Alice Murphy.

In the 2012 A-Sun Women’s Golf Championship, the Mercer women’s golf team fired an 880, the third-lowest three-round total ever in the A-Sun Championship.

However, it just so happened that the teams that shot the best and second-best totals did so in the same tournament, serving as an indication as to how women’s golf in the A-Sun has progressed in the last several years.

“The level of women’s golf in the A-Sun compared to three or four years ago is like night and day,” said Mercer Head Women’s Golf Coach Gary Guyer. “We shot an 880 in the conference championship and finished third, and we got beat by two other good teams in KSU and ETSU. We averaged 73.3 in the championship, and when I first got here we averaged about 87. That tells you something not only just about our team, but that the whole conference is getting better.”

After recording top-five finishes in each of its five events in the fall, Mercer women’s golf is ready for that momentum to spill over into spring 2013. The Bears opened their spring schedule today at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami, which features a field comprised of 10 teams ranked in the top 100 and four teams ranked in the Top 50 by Golfstat.

“This first tournament will give us a good idea of where we are and what we need to focus on,” said Guyer, “because we will be playing against some Top 50 teams. The toughest thing for mid-majors is to get into really good tournaments. KSU and ETSU have been good at getting in and doing well when you are there so you get asked back. We are getting there, but it takes time.”

Junior Lacey Fears

Individual Bears also experienced success in the fall, particularly Lacey Fears and Mary Alice Murphy. Fears carded three top-10 finishes, including her fifth career individual title at the LPGA/Xavier Invitational and a runner-up at the Eat-A-Peach Collegiate.

“I felt pretty confident this fall, and was able to win the LPGA and record pretty good finishes in the others,” said Fears. “I feel good about the momentum I gained from the fall leading into the spring for me and the team.”

Murphy also recorded three top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish at the Terrier Intercollegiate hosted by Wofford.

“My favorite tournament of the fall was the first of the season at Wofford, in which I came in second,” said Murphy. “The course was more like the ones back home in Chattanooga, so it was nice to be on something a little more familiar.”

In each of the Bears’ five events, Fears or Murphy was the team’s leader. They both admit a friendly competition, driving each other to be her best in every event.

“Lacey has been so supportive these last three years, and I have really appreciated and enjoyed having her on the team with me,” said Murphy. “We both push each other to do well and we both understand when one isn’t doing so well, we can say ‘hey, what’s up?’ I am glad to have someone on the team that I can rely on and trust that much, because it does help to have someone in your corner.”

“We definitely have a competition every week,” said Fears. “For the two of us, it is whoever brings their game that day. We definitely want to get that going at the same time, especially at the conference championship. It is definitely more fun having someone like her to compete with.”

Mercer returns with consistency and experience in 2012-13, as this year’s lineup is comprised of the same five that competed last season: seniors Auriele Wiriath and Kaitlin Marrin, juniors Fears and Murphy and sophomore Sarah Brown. All five have broken par in qualifying, and Guyer is looking forward to when things truly begin to click.

“Sarah Brown is really playing lights out,” said Guyer. “She has worked hard on her game and qualified number one this spring, so if she puts it together and gets her confidence up, then I can see her getting it going as well. Auriele is always consistent, and has won a tournament before by shooting under par to win. Kaitlin also has a 70 in qualifying, so all of them have the potential. If all of them got clicking, it would be fun to watch.”

Along with the Bears’ talent, Murphy attributes much of the team’s success last year and now into this season to this consistency and familiarity with each other and a common focus.

“I think our success in the fall really goes back to our common goal – that we all want to get better,” said Murphy. “We have the same five traveling this year that traveled last year, so having that same program, same system, and same environment is adding up really well for us. We have five girls who want to play to the best of our ability and everyone just feeds off of that.

“Our camaraderie has grown every year that I have been here. The team gets better and more focused, and it has been a lot of fun to play with people who want to do better every day. It inspires you to do better every day too. When you all have that goal to perform better it helps, because we are all able to help each other.”

The Bears’ success is no accident, because Guyer’s team operates in an extremely competitive environment. Everything the Bears do is centered on competition; a strategy that he believes is paying off, particularly in the mental game.

“Because our environment is extremely competitive, and everything that we do is centered around that, when they get to the actual competition they have ‘been there before,’” Guyer says.

“Plus, the short game has been great, and our putting has been good,” he continues. “But I think the thing that is helping the most is that we have five people who have played together for two years now, so they are just coming together as a team. When someone has your back and you don’t have a great day, that really helps you.

“I think just coming together as a team will be the difference and help us build on the success of the fall. Now I am not saying that we are sitting around a campfire singing Kumbayah, because we are competing every day. But in the past where they have played more as individuals, they are coming together and learning and being able to play with each other.”

With the hiring of Dr. Joe Wolstencroft as his assistant coach, Guyer’s relationship with his team is also growing. An active member of the mental health field for more than 25 years, Dr. Wolstencroft aids the team from the prospective of a sports psychologist, while also providing golf instruction. For Guyer, Wolstencroft has already helped him learn more about his team and how to effectively deal with a variety of players and personalities.

“He has helped me relate to some of the girls better, helping me understand when to push and when to back off,” Guyer said. “I want them to perform at their utmost level, but I have to understand that some of them are feelers and some are thinkers. He has helped me learn their personality types, how to reach them and how to address their fears. We meet once a week and hold nothing back, and that truly has helped the team understand each other.”

Like many or most of the teams in the A-Sun, everything is done with the goal of winning the conference championship in mind. So as the Bears continue to gel, to improve and compete in a conference in which the bar continues to be raised, Murphy understands what is required to ascend to the next level.

“We will have to rededicate ourselves to working even harder than we did in the fall,” said Murphy. “We have some good tournaments coming up, and staying as dedicated in practice is what will matter, because the level of golf is rising in the A-Sun.

“Last year our three-day score would have won previous A-Sun Championships, and we came in third. I think that really lights the fire. The more challenging and the better it gets, it is going to make me work harder. Having that extra drive for competition helps you get better.”

While the drills and the competition are simply tactics that prove that there is a method to his madness, Guyer’s goal can be boiled down to a few simple premises.

“I know it sounds cliché, but our goal is to be a little better every day...and to have fun,” said Guyer. “You can’t control a lot of things, but you can control your attitude, and make a good committed shot at the ball each time. We are just trying to get prepared and let the chips fall where they may. But one thing is for sure - we will be prepared.”

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