FAIRBORN — Wright State will be facing four ranked teams in the NCAA golf regionals at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course: No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 10 Arkansas, No. 12 Georgia Tech and No. 25 Clemson.
And in the Golfstat.com power ratings, the Horizon League champs are 13th in the field of 13 at No. 89 in the country.
But while the top-seeded Cowboys have sent Rickie Fowler, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff and Talor Gooch (among many others) to the PGA Tour — and other contenders have their own lists of famous alums — the Raiders won’t be heading to the first tee shaking in their Softspikes.
“It might be a little shock when they see the Power-5 names on the golf bags around the putting green. But I think they look at this as a chance to make a name for themselves,” first-year coach Conner Lash said.
“They’re excited to compete against those guys, and I don’t anticipate them being scared or shocked. If anything, they’re going to be more motivated and jacked up, and I may have to calm them down a little bit.”
The 54-hole event will be held Monday through Wednesday, and the top five finishers from six regional sites will advance to the NCAA championships May 27-June 1 in Scottsdale Ariz.
The Raiders have never finished better than 13th in five previous postseason trips. But they’ve probably never had a team with as much depth and talent as this bunch.
Though they’ve faced mostly mid-major competition, they’ve won a school-record nine tournaments in 2021-22, each with fields of 10 or more teams.
All five starters have been a medalist at least once with Tyler Goecke winning a program-best four times.
They had just one practice round at the Scarlet Course, a 7,400-yard beast. And Lash has prepared his players for the test by taking them to play at Moraine, Tartan Fields and Columbus Country Club.
“They’re just trying to get their games squared away. It’s been good weather, and they don’t have school, so all they’re thinking about is golf,” he said.
“We want to make the top five. We want to go to the NCAA championship. No one expects us to do it. We can just go out and play free.”
Before joining the Raider staff in 2020, Lash was a caddie for LPGA player and West Chester native Marissa Steen, who has battled injuries but had a top-10 finish in the Women’s British Open last year.
Though previous coach Brian Arlinghaus recruited the three seniors and two juniors in the first five, Lash has helped them reach a new level.
Dialogue from a caddie to his player during a round is mostly positive reinforcement. And that’s been Lash’s approach this season.
As star player Mikkel Mathiesen put it: “He’s awesome. He lets us do our thing, but he’s always there for us when we need him to be.”
The Raiders have been winning with such regularity that it’s hard to remember the lean years.
They won a combined six tourneys from 2017-21 but were shut out for seven seasons before that.
“My coaching philosophy with these guys is — they work hard. They do what they’re supposed to do. I don’t have to hold their hand. But when they get out on a golf course, I’m just there to give them as much confidence as I can,” said Lash, who played for the Raiders from 2012-16 and was a two-time captain.
“The game’s so mental. You can’t have any negative thoughts creep in. I just make sure they know how good they are. They can pull off any shot. If they make a bogey, I’m like, ‘I don’t know why you guys are mad when you mess up. You’re so good you can rattle off three, four or five birdies.
“I couldn’t do that when I was in college. There’s guys at the college level now who can’t do that.”
Lash’s upbeat message is supported by data.
Goecke has a 70.47 average, and Mathiesen is at 71.42. Both are on pace to break Ryan Wenzler’s 2016-17 school record of 71.73.
Bryce Haney averages 72.26, Cole Corder 72.53 and Davis Root 73.41.
Top-seeded Oklahoma State is the clear favorite with four players ranked in Golfstat.com’s top 50, all with averages of 71.0 or better.
But the Raiders stack up with sixth-seeded Ohio State’s starting five: Maxwell Moldovan is at 70.7, Adam Wallin 71.85, Marco Steyn 72.6, Jonerik Alford 73.93 and Patrick Schmucking 73.93.
“Obviously, I’m partial, but I think this is the best team Wright State has ever had, and we’re not satisfied yet,” Goecke said.
“We had a really good fall. And Conner kept us focused and said, ‘We’re not coming out flat in the spring.’ And we’ve had a really solid spring.”
Four wins in six events, including a 10-stroke victory in the league tourney, is more than just solid. And they’re not ready for the season to end.
“I’ve told them, ‘These guys are just college kids like you are. They’re not robots,’” Lash said.
“We’ll just give it our all and come out swinging and see what happens.”
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