It is that time of the year again.
No, not the wildly popular basketball spectacle that is March Madness. Rather, now is the return of a sport after a long hiatus—golf.
The golf season is split into two separate sections—one for the fall semester and one for the spring. But in between those seasons is a long break.
During that break—since the sport is technically not considered in-season—the athletes are limited to eight hours of organized practice per week. That includes activities such as working out and hitting the driving range.
It is officially time for the Butler men’s and women’s golf teams to start playing again, though.
The squads have a variety of goals and expectations as their spring season gets underway.
The Butler men’s golf team is looking to rebound in the upcoming spring season after a disappointing finish to the fall season.
While the team won its first tournament of the season at Green Bay and finished second in the Butler Fall Invitational, the Bulldogs placed ninth, 12th and 13th in their other three fall events.
According to coach Bill Mattingly, it all starts with trying to improve as a team.
“The conference is wide open this year,” Mattingly said. “With the guys we have, there is a good chance we could win.”
Players said they feel they have what it takes to make the ascension to champions of the Horizon League.
Junior Matt Vitale said that unity has been important for Butler.
“I think the biggest thing that it comes down to is that we all like each other and everyone enjoys the game of golf,” Vitale said.
Vitale was a walk-on to the team last year. Initially, he said he felt like he had to prove himself to show he belonged, but he does not feel the same way now.
The feeling of togetherness within the team does not stop there, though.
“The juniors and seniors have been really welcoming,” freshman Andrew Eiler said. “They have been a lot of help in transitioning from high school to college golf.”
Mattingly said Eiler is the youngest major contributor to the team.
“He came in, won his spot on the team and never gave it away,” Mattingly said.
Players say they revel in the chance to have workouts with their teammates—even if they come at 6 a.m.—as it is another opportunity to be pushed to work that much harder.
Senior Alex Walker has been on the team long enough to know the ins and outs of not only the sport but the balance of college life as well.
Walker said the preparation involved to get physically and mentally ready for the spring season should constantly be stressed, and he hopes to help players learn how to get better in order to win the conference tournament.
The Bulldogs open their spring season in Florida against Evansville and Cleveland State on March 10.
After that, the team has seven events between March 10 and April 29. Six of these are multi-day contests, three of which will take place in Florida.
The women had a successful fall season, winning three out of five invitationals.
Mattingly said he knows the transition from one season to the next can be difficult at first.
“The first few tournaments will be rough,” Mattingly said.
Players said they know this as well.
The time off is one major disadvantage of playing golf in the northern half of the country.
Thanks to weather, teams in the North are not able to practice and play on courses during their own free time like the teams in the South are.
This creates a huge disadvantage for teams like Butler, but shaking off the rust is essential if the Bulldogs plan to build on their success in the fall season.
“It’s definitely going to be difficult since [the USA Women’s Invitational] is our first tournament in a few months,” senior Michele Nash said. “Mentally, you have to prepare yourself for the spring season and expect to shoot your best scores.”
Nash is coming off a fall season in which she recorded two first-place finishes, a runner-up showing and two fifth-place finishes.
In addition to the strong play from Nash, two freshmen also contributed to the success the team had in the fall.
Both Isabella Lambert and Jenna Peters had a top-three finish at one tournament in the fall.
Mattingly heaped praises upon them and said he expects them to be “stronger, smarter and a little more poised” after having one semester of experience under their belts.
According to Peters, the Bulldogs are not merely looking to improve, though.
“I would really like to go to the NCAA tournament,” Peters said.
Mattingly said he believes an NCAA tournament appearance is possible and has gotten the players to buy into it, too.
Butler was tabbed to win the Horizon League in a preseason poll by Golfweek magazine, and the Bulldogs said they fully plan to come out firing with a strong showing in Mobile, Ala.
That is where the USA Women’s Invitational was held yesterday and today.
Nash finished in a three-way tie for fifth place at the event, leading the Bulldogs to a runner-up showing.
Lambert had the second-best showing of all Butler players, finishing in eighth.
Butler finished two strokes behind host South Alabama in the 13-team event.
The women will now compete in the same seven events as their male counterparts between March 10 and April 29.