COLUMBIA — Stuart Ballingall has traveled thousands of miles in his relentless pursuit to play golf.
Ballingall came from Norwich, England, to play for the Missouri men’s golf team. Before coming to Missouri, he played for the under-18 national team in Scotland, where he was born. The frequency of play wasn’t enough for him, though, which is why he decided to come to Missouri.
For the second consecutive year, the Missouri men's golf team has qualified for the NCAA postseason with a selection to the 14-team Southeastern Regional, hosted by top-seeded Florida.
The Tigers, one of seven Big 12 Conference teams to qualify for NCAA regional play, will be the 10th seed at the event set for May 19 through 21 at the Golden Ocala Golf Club in Ocala, Fla. Baylor is the No. 7 seed.
The top-five teams and individuals will advance to the NCAA Championships, set for May 31 through June 5, at Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla.
Last season, Missouri finished tied with Arizona for 10th out of the 13 teams at the Southwest Regional at Carlton Oaks Golf Club in Santee, Calif.
The last time Missouri advanced to the NCAA finals was in 2005, when the Tigers earned a 16th-place finish.
“When I talked to the coach of the Scottish national team, he described Stuart as a terrier,” Missouri coach Mark Leroux said. “He never quits.”
Ballingall, a sophomore who has shot as low as 62 for the Tigers, learned golf from his father.
“Golf has just always been a part of my family,” Ballingall said. “I was 10 when I first went to a pitch-and-putt golf course, and then when I turned 11, I started taking it quite seriously. Since I was 13, I’ve been playing in national tournaments. That’s when I started to really compete.”
Ballingall has competed throughout Europe, and after his sophomore season at Missouri, he said he plans to continue that tradition.
“I’m going home for summer, and I plan to play for Scotland’s national men’s golf team,” he said. “My flight is booked for the day after the (NCAA) national championship.”
After he graduated from high school, Ballingall knew he wanted to play golf full time, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. MU senior teammate William Harrold, a native of Guestwick, England, lived only a short distance from Ballingall and had known him before they were teammates.
“I knew Will was at Mizzou, and when he came back one Christmas he mentioned it to me,” Ballingall said. “Within a month I had taken the SAT, because Coach Leroux couldn’t do anything until I took it. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t passed that.”
But Ballingall had to overcome a new obstacle when he first started playing for the Tigers: being so far from home.
“It took some getting used to,” Ballingall said. “But once I got used to being so far away, I knew I was going to stay. There was no point in me going home; I’d already been at home trying to golf by myself.”
Ballingall’s persistence has paid off, and he said he has received more out of playing for Missouri than he ever expected.
“It’s just awesome being over here and competing at such a high level,” Ballingall said. “It’s worked out perfectly, while I’m competing here, it’s the offseason back home, and when I go home for the summer, I’ll be able to get in nearly a full summer schedule.”
It’s that endless drive that reminded his coach of a terrier. The same drive that Ballingall hopes will push his skill to the next level.
“I hope to turn pro,” Ballingall said. “That’s the plan. I’ll do as well as I can here, and then take it from there.”
By the way Ballingall’s teammates look up to him, you would think he's already playing professional golf.
“Stew is so consistent,” junior Nick Wilson said. “He doesn’t shoot bad, and I’m learning from him how to handle some of the pressure that goes with playing the game. Playing with someone that good really helps you improve yourself.”
Although Ballingall practices nearly every day and is continually working on improving, he said he still has fun playing golf.
“Me and Stew played a match play the other day for lunch,” Wilson said. “He won, so I had to buy him Chipotle.”
Ballingall said he has no doubts about Missouri’s ability to compete in both the upcoming NCAA regionals and championship.
“We’ve got an awesome team,” Ballingall said. “We have a great chance of making it to nationals. I can’t see why we won’t, but we’ve got to take it one step at a time and do well in regionals first, and I have no doubt we will.”
Ballingall will get the chance to prove that when Missouri competes against schools like Augusta State, Arkansas and Florida in the NCAA Southeast Regionals May 19-21 at the Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla., hosted by top-seeded Florida.