Players expecting another shot at Summit League title
Back on May 3rd of 2022, the North Dakota State University men’s golf team entered the final round of the Summit League Golf Championship just three strokes behind the favorite, the Denver Pioneers. The Herd’s Nate Deziel had a six-shot lead in the individual title chase and while the Bison had surrendered the first-round lead to Denver after the Pioneers shot a second-round seven under par, the Bison were well within reach of capturing their first league championship since 2018.
Unfortunately, it was not to be as the Bison could not finish down the stretch after temporarily taking the lead from Denver in that third round. The Bison finished with a two-under 286 on the day, but Denver held NDSU off with an even-par 288 to capture the crown by one stroke.
One stroke…out of over 500-plus strokes.
The 2022-23 edition of Bison men’s golf has not forgotten that and is using it as a motivator entering the spring portion of their schedule to capture that elusive title. The team certainly has the firepower, the experience and the drive to get to the promised land that is a Summit League Championship. In the fall portion of the 22-23 campaign, the team collected three team wins in the NDSU Invitational Oxbow, N.D.), the Zach Johnson Invitational (Des Moines, Iowa) and the Old Dominion/Outer Banks Intercollegiate (Powells Point, N.C.). Even when the Herd did not win, they golfed well finishing 2nd Wildcat Invitational (Kansas State U) and 3rd in the TPC-Colorado Heron Lakes Collegiate (Denver, Colo.). Their worst performance, if you can call it that, was a 5th-place finish at the Island Resort Intercollegiate in Bark River, Mich., their first tournament of the season.
“Our guys, they don’t want it to be even close,” NDSU Head Coach Steve Kennedy explained. “We want to go in and win the conference by a fairly large margin. You know, not even have to worry about that one shot.”
Sophomore Ian Simonich had similar feelings. “Major chip on our shoulder. Being a freshman last year, you understand it’s really important because you want to get to that next level,” Simonich said. “Just seeing how close everybody has been the past few years and the emotions right after last year’s tournament, especially the more senior guys…it kind of got to me.”
First, the experience. The Bison return all five regular starters from the fall schedule. Nate Adams, Gavin Cronkhite, Brock Winter, Simonich and Deziel all return, and Kennedy expects them to start the spring schedule as the Herd’s top five players.
“The top five guys have separated themselves a little bit and they’re going to get an opportunity to go out and show they are our best guys,” Kennedy said. “It’s a little rough in the spring at first not getting to practice a lot on natural grass, but they are going to be our starting five.”
Apparently, someone at Golf Week thinks the Bison should be good as well. In the latest polls, North Dakota State is ranked #61 in the country, not bad for a program that has to practice indoors from November through April. The Summit League’s officials also have faith in the Herd. In January, the Bison men were picked to win the Summit League title garnering 77 points in the poll including 8 of 10 first-place votes.
“We finished 57-7 in the fall. Our Golfweek and golfstat ratings are higher than they have ever been,” Kennedy said. “We are #61 in Golfweek and #84 in golfstat.”
This squad also has firepower. Four of the starting five are in the Top Ten in school history for average scoring rounds in a season (min. 10 rounds). Ian Simonich (70.6) is second, Nate Adams (71.4) is third, Gavin Cronkhite (71.8) is fourth and Nate Deziel holds two spots in the Top Ten, eighth (72.5) and ninth (72.7). Just missing the Top Ten is Brock Winter who is twelfth at 72.8. This team can play and anyone of the five can go low at any time. Simonich’s 70.6 led the Summit League last fall.
What about the drive to be #1? What fuels it?
“This team is ready. We don’t get taken seriously because we are from North Dakota and we can’t play outdoors in the winter,” Simonich explained. “It gives us motivation to show them they’re wrong. Not getting out to play every day also has the benefit of re-igniting the competitive juices and looking forward to getting on grass and starting fresh.”
Although he did not make this list, the Bison still have the defending Summit League Individual Champion in Nate Deziel. Last May, Deziel led wire-to-wire while setting a tournament record with a 13 under par 203 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan. Deziel will have a target on his back as the spring season starts, but Kennedy expects more great things from Deziel.
“Nate has always been one that is a gamer,” Kennedy elaborated. “I don’t think that will matter to him. You know, you’re playing the course. No one is playing defense against you. Nate will be just fine.”
While it looks as though the Bison should be a sure winner to earn their first conference title since 2018, there may be a couple of bumps on the road to the league tournament in Lincoln, Neb., in May. The men are scheduled to play on five new courses this spring. The Herd will be headed to Savannah, Geo., Daytona Beach, Fla., Phoenix, Ariz., Tacoma, Wash., and Pittsburgh, Penn. None of the men on the current Bison roster have played on any of these courses. Also, the league championship will be played on a new course, Wilderness Ridge Golf Course in Lincoln. None of the Bison have played there either.
Finally, both coach Kennedy and Simonich are extremely excited for the upcoming spring. There is an air of seriousness and a lot of confidence at practice this year.
“We have a lot of experience. We have a lot of players that have played in big tournaments,” Kennedy said. “I look for a lot of big things from this team.”
“We’re gonna’ be really good,” Simonich added.