Southern golf uses depth to claim championship

Apr. 19—Missouri Southern men's golf team had three individuals place inside the top 10 of the MIAA conference championship this week.

As play ended Wednesday, Luis Limon was in first, Ben Marckmann was tied for second and Tradgon "Trey" McCrae was in 10th.

That was opposite from what you would have seen last year in this event.

"When you have one individual that is your standout, as Trey was last year, a lot of pressure is on that individual to perform," MSSU coach Mike Wheeler said. "He knows if he doesn't (perform well), the team may not do well."

Now, McCrae still led the team in seven of the 11 events it competed in, and six of those were consecutive events.

Limon led the team to a first-place finish in September at the Blue Tiger Fall Invitational and again in early April at the Showdown at Shangri-La when the team took sixth place. And then he lead the way in the first-place finish in the MIAA tournament.

Marckmann tied with McCrae for the team lead in the NCAA Regional Preview in mid-October. And Dylan Bagley tied McCrae last week in the Firekeeper Open hosted by Washburn University.

Even freshman Zach Gardner led the team during the event at Shangri-La Country Club in Monkey Island, Oklahoma, in September. Gardner competed as a part of the top five players on the team in seven events but did not compete with the team in the last two.

This shows the depth of the team as there have been five different players to lead the team in competition and then Josh Hamnett — who hasn't led the team — has three top-10 finishes and two more inside the top 15.

Wheeler says Limon, Hamnett and Marckmann have all stepped up this year to alleviate some of the pressure on McCrae to lead the way. Those four have consistently been in Wheeler's top five players for each tournament.

"When Trey isn't at his A-game, the team still performs well," the coach said of this season.

It goes beyond those top three performances, though, and even those four names. Even with three players in the top 10, MSSU needed Bagley and Hamnett's performances to win this week.

Bagley finished 20th at 16-over par with a 229 and Hamnett was 24th with a 17-over 230. There were four players tied at 20th and another six tied at 24th. Say these guys dropped down to 30th and 31st — which would have been three strokes worse for each one — and the Lions would have lost by one stroke to UCM.

"The fourth bag, and really the fifth bag, can be so important to (the team)," Wheeler said. "Because if one of those top three has a bad day, those other guys have to pick you up and keep you in it."

Bagley has competed in four events and hasn't placed lower than 24th and has placed as high as fourth.

Assistant coach Derek Skaggs said that this team is close-knit and that's part of why they're able to have the success they've had the last two seasons.

Skaggs said they truly care about one another and want the best for each other. Wheeler explained it like this:

"They play as a team, but they also are out there playing as individuals. It's not like they pass the ball to one another. There can be rivalry or there can be support. These guys are very supportive of one another. They live together, they eat together and they play together."

And that makes it fun.

"It's been a lot of fun. I'm glad to be part of this team," Limon said. "We're not sure if we play good because we have fun or if we have fun because we play good. We believe those things go hand in hand."

One example of the support each teammate shows for one another is that four of the members not playing in the MIAA championship still drove up to Kansas City on Wednesday to be there for the five guys on the course on the final day of the event.

"That shows how good of teammates they are," Limon said.

They will have a chance to do that again as the Lions will be trekking to Edmond, Oklahoma, for the super regional on May 9-11 at KickingBird Golf Club.

"We're going to go up against the 19 best teams out of about 60 in the central part of the United States," Wheeler said.

Heading into regional play, McCrae is ranked ninth, Limon 14th and Marckmann 24th.