COLUMBIA — In the 10 years that coach Mark Leroux has led the Missouri men's golf team, no player has done what sophomore Mike Wootten did this weekend. Wootten, a transfer from Central Missouri, walked on to the team and qualified for the Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate, which the Tigers won Sunday.
While Leroux can't speak for the years prior to becoming head coach, he said that Wootten is the first walk-on to make an impact at Missouri while Leroux has been in charge.
"This is probably the first walk-on to really make it, to come in and be in the top five," Leroux said. "We may have had a walk-on or two previously, but everybody else that we've made go through the qualifier has never done it."
The process of qualifying for a tournament is difficult. Only five players can qualify to represent the team with each spot being earned over a span of six days.
"It's tough," Leroux said. "You come out and you think you can play with our guys? OK. Day 1: You have to beat one guy. Day 2: you've got to be beating two guys. Day 3: you have to be beating three guys and be within 10 shots of fifth place to continue to days four, five and six. This young man was in the top five the whole way through."
Three of the five players from the Tigers finished in the top 10 at the tournament. Senior Emilio Cuartero finished third with 209 strokes, redshirt sophomore Wilson Sundvold tied for seventh with 213 strokes and freshman Euan Walker tied for ninth with 214 strokes.
Wootten, who competed as an individual at the tournament, finished 57th overall with 237 strokes. Leroux chalked up Wootten's 21-over-par performance to inexperience playing at a higher level of competition.
"This is a whole new experience for him," Leroux said. "It wasn't like he's never flown on an airplane to go on a golf tournament. It's just the newness. He came from Central Missouri, where they had their system in place. This is the first he's ever done this."
Wootten said he already has a plan to fix his game before the next tournament.
"I just need to work on a couple parts of my game," Wootten said. "Putting and key shots were my two weaknesses that really brought me down at my last tournament. If I can get those together, I should be able to play pretty well."
Wootten played in only one event while a freshman at Central Missouri before opting to transfer to MU.
"It was always a dream of mine to come play golf at Mizzou," Wootten said. "When I couldn't directly out of high school, it was a letdown. But then I thought that if I played good I would have a chance to transfer. I didn't really play well my freshman year, so I just came here and tried to walk on."
While comparing his time at Central Missouri with MU, Wootten said the biggest difference between the two is the golf courses where he gets to practice every week.
"The biggest difference I would probably say is the facilities," Wootten said. "At Central Missouri, we were really limited. We played on kind of a country course. Here we have multiple really nice country clubs we have at our disposal whenever we want to play. That's a huge benefit."
Wootten is scheduled to compete for the Tigers as an individual at the Columbia Regional Preview on Sept. 16 and 17 at The Club at Old Hawthorne.