Wright State began the final round of the Horizon League golf tournament Tuesday four shots behind first-place Northern Kentucky. And as much as coach Brian Arlinghaus vowed not to become fixated on scoring updates, he did enough checking to know his team was falling further behind on the front nine.
Not to NKU, though. Youngstown State had staged an unexpected rally to take a brief lead.
But that’s when the Raiders’ mental training under Arlinghaus, who owns and operates Cincinnati Sports Psychology, really kicked in.
“The important thing is you can’t let outside things influence your game — that’s leaderboards, playing competitors, parents, weather. There’s no defense in golf. We can’t stop someone from making a run. We just have to do our thing and trust it’ll be better than everyone else’s,” the second-year coach said.
“(Tuesday) was the first day they did that all the time. It was like seeing Tiger in his prime with the way all five guys were dialed in. It was freaking awesome to watch.”
After averaging 75.5 in the first round and 74.5 in the second, the Raiders put together their best day of the season at the most opportune time, carding a 288 for an even-par 72 average to win the conference crown by a whopping eight shots.
Sophomore Bryce Haney, a sophomore from Wayne, finished second — three shots behind medalist Greg Kneiser of Green Bay — with scores of 74-72-72 for a 218 total at the El Campeon course in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.
Freshman Cole Corder (78-71-71) joined Haney on the all-tournament team with a third-place showing, and junior Austin Schoonmaker (74-75-76) tied for 10th.
Senior Mitch Lehigh (76-80-72) and sophomore Nate Arnold (79-84-73) also came through, especially in the final round.
The Raiders won their first league title since 2004 and sixth overall. They qualified for the NCAA tournament and will find out their regional destination at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, on the Golf Channel.
“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet,” Arlinghaus said as he was boarding a plane for home. “It happened sooner than I thought it would, I’ll be honest with you. I thought we were a year or two away. To do what they did today is insanely good.”
Haney was named the league freshman of the year ast season. And he led the way on the back nine by finishing one-under-par.
“Bryce is a unique player,” Arlinghaus said. “It doesn’t hit it far. He doesn’t make a ton of putts. His swing is unorthodox. But he finds a way to square the face and hit the ball dead straight. He knows how far it’s going, and he knows what he needs to do and when to do it.”
Haney credits Arlinghaus’ unconventional methods with getting the Raiders over the top. They spend the first 20 minutes of each practice sitting still in the locker room, visualizing positive outcomes.
“Coach has been telling us for a couple weeks now to stay in our bubble and only let positive things in,” Haney said. “Every time a negative thought comes into our bubble, we always take a deep breath and make sure we get it out.
“We’re probably the only team doing that. No other team has a coach who has a psychology background and works with the brain. I’ve always believed — I forget whose quote it is — that golf is played on a six-inch course, and it’s the distance between your ears.”
Haney never knew where he stood during the final round. Though he came up short in his bid for an individual crown, he wasn’t disappointed.
“I played my best. I left it all out there,” he said. “I was more focused on the team winning anyway. That was more important to me.”
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