One year ago, Mark Leroux was disappointed.
His Austin Peay State University’s golf team had just finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference championship. Austin Peay had won three consecutive titles in the conference, and the third-place showing was unexpected.
One year ago, the Missouri men’s golf team shared Leroux’s emotion.
The Tigers had finished 11th in the Big 12 Conference championship.
They did not have Leroux’s expectations going into their championship, but the second-to-last finish hurt.
This year, Leroux is the coach of the Missouri team, and both sides are looking to help the other reverse last year’s disappointment with strong play at the Big 12 Conference Championships today through Sunday at Whistling Pines Golf Course in Trinity, Texas.
“I don’t know if I expect to win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we were close at the end,” junior Ben Scott said.
Scott has been one of the catalysts, along with Chris Mabry, Shawn Jasper, Tyler Dunn and John Kelly, of the Tigers’ dramatic turnaround this season.
Two consecutive tournament wins have given the Tigers a confidence that was desperately needed during last season’s struggles, and the team is looking forward to validating its strong play against some of the best teams in the country.
The breakout came at the Belmont Invitational from April 4-5 in Nashville, Tenn., where Mabry and Jasper opened with 63s and the Tigers went on to win the tournament by 35 strokes.
At the Boilermaker Invitational on April 16-17, the Tigers continued playing well and defeated two top-25 teams, including host Purdue.
Leroux said he would be lying if he thought this team would succeed so quickly when he first arrived in the fall, but with the two consecutive wins he is confident his team will do well at the Big 12 Championship.
“If somebody plays particularly well, then hats off to them, great,” Leroux said. “But if we play well, people better watch out.”
Leroux said he is joking with the players about the momentum they have going into the championships, but it is still something that should help them.
“I’ll say, ‘Did you guys feel that?’ while we’re sitting in the van,” Leroux said. “They’ll say, ‘What?’ and I’ll say, ‘That momentum.’”
The momentum has changed the team’s expectations going into the championship.
The original goal was to finish sixth or higher, but the players on Wednesday said they expect to win or finish in the top three.
Missouri’s competition will make a top-three finish difficult to achieve.
Texas is a three-time defending champion of the men’s golf championship and ranked No. 12 in the national Golfstat rankings.
Oklahoma State is ranked No. 2 in the country and No. 1 in the District V collegiate rankings.
Other teams ranked ahead of the No. 67 Tigers in Golfstat are No. 29 Texas Tech, No. 28 Texas A&M, No. 30 Oklahoma, No. 35 Kansas, No. 48 Baylor and No. 66 Kansas State.
The Golfstat rankings are set by head-to-head records, though, and Missouri’s slow start in the fall is holding it back from a higher ranking.
It has risen to No. 5 in the district rankings after being No. 9 two weeks ago. The district rankings help determine which eight teams are selected for postseason play.
Leroux said he hopes his team’s recent success has already secured it a postseason berth, but he will not know until regional seedings are made May 9.