Wright State golf: Raiders looking to repeat as league champs

Wright State's Austin Schoonmaker hits a shot during the Wright State Invitational at Heatherwoode Golf Course. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics
Wright State's Austin Schoonmaker hits a shot during the Wright State Invitational at Heatherwoode Golf Course. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Austin Schoonmaker didn’t know if he’d get another chance to drain a pressure putt for Wright State after his senior season was abruptly halted last spring because of COVID-19.

The Springboro product was a stalwart on the Horizon League championship team in 2019 — the Raiders’ first title in 15 years. And they looked even better in 2020.

Though the NCAA eventually would grant all spring athletes another year of eligibility, Schoonmaker had nowhere to go for answers when the shutdown first hit.

Even coach Brian Arlinghaus was in limbo.

“Right when they cancelled our season, he and I were like, ‘Is that it? Are you done? Do we need to say good-bye now?’” the fourth-year coach said.

“Then they came back (with extended eligibility), and it didn’t take me long to convince him to come back. He wanted to go out with a conference championship.”

Schoonmaker will get that chance when the three-round league tourney kicks off Sunday at Purdue’s home course in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Raiders are peaking at the right time after blasting 16 other teams in their own invitational at Heatherwoode earlier this week. They were a collective 21-over par for three rounds for a 13-stroke victory.

The other eight league teams were entered, and Purdue Fort Wayne had the best showing of the bunch at 38-over.

Schoonmaker tied for first at 3under. His average is a team-best 71.64, about three shots lower than in 2019.

“I feel like my short game has gotten better. My scrambling percentage has gone up. That’s important to our coach to work on, and I feel like it’s benefitted me,” Schoonmaker said.

“I’ve always been a pretty good ball striker. And on days when you’re not hitting it as well, you can rely on your short game and still post a good score.”

But Schoonmaker’s contributions go beyond just maximizing his rounds.

“He’s been described by people who’ve watched him as an oak. He’s an oak tree,” Arlinghaus said. “The amount of mental growth I’ve seen from him since his freshman year when I got here has been astounding.

“He goes through his round with very little emotion. During the highs and lows, he just rides the waves. That’s kind of what it takes to play good golf.”

The HL tourney had been held at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., since 2011. And Arlinghaus took a reconnaissance trip with his team there in January.

They played four rounds while getting reacquainted with the layout. But then the league shifted the event to the Pete Dye-designed Kampen Course, which hosted the 2008 NCAA championships.

“None of us has seen it” Arlinghaus said. “None of us has played it. I’ve got some yardage and green-reading books that the guys have been studying. We’ll get one look at it Saturday and then go play.”

But Arlinghaus isn’t complaining — not after missing the 2020 tourney.

“I’m not crazy thrilled about it,” he said of the move. “But if you would have told me last year that we’d get to play somewhere (in 2021), I would have said, ‘We’ll play on (Interstate) 675 if they put holes there.’”

The Raiders showed how deep they are by putting six players in the top 25 of their tourney — everyone in their five-man team, plus Tyler Goecke, who was competing as an individual and finished in a tie for third at 1-under.

Arlinghaus won’t have an easy time paring his squad to five for the HL tourney. Mikkel Mathiesen is averaging 71.82, Goecke 72.42, Cam Willis 72.94, Bryce Haney 73.85, Davis Root 74.45 and Cole Corder 75.72.

Corder finished second and Haney third in 2019 to earn all-tourney honors.

But while the Raiders would seem to be heavy favorites, Schoonmaker warned: “There’s still a job to do. It’s not like they just hand out (the trophy) for having a good team.”

He added: “I think we’re in a really good spot. We’re all playing well. If we all do our job, we’ll post a good number, and then we’ll see what happens.”

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