The Delta State University golf team will compete in the NCAA Division II National Men’s Golf Tournament on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Fighting Joe Course in Muscle Shoals, Ala. starting Monday and lasting through May 25.
The Statesmen, under first year head coach Easton Key, finished tied for sixth with Saint Leo in the NCAA South/Southeast Region Tournament in Conover, N.C. earlier this month on May 9. Before going to the region tournament, the Statesmen finished second in the Gulf South Conference Tournament in Pine Mountain, Ga. on Apr. 22-24. The berth into the national tournament is DSU’s first since 2014.
Key, who was an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska at Omaha men’s and women’s golf team before coming to DSU, said this year is one he’ll remember.
“It’s been one special year for sure,” Key said. “We set our goals high early on not really knowing what would happen. It’s a testament to our guys and how much they’ve bought into the winning culture. It’s been a Cinderella year. A year we’ll remember forever.”
Before coaching at UNO, Key played college golf at Meridian Community College and Arkansas State University. Key was an assistant golf coach at ASU after his playing days.
Key said he didn’t anticipate the team going to the national tournament his first year.
“With this being my first year, I figured it would a learning year,” Key said. “I really had no idea what would happen.”
The golfers at DSU have provided some fantastic performances. Sophomore and Panama City, Fla. native Zach Zediker won the Gulf South Conference Individual Championship during the tournament by shooting a 6-under par, 210. He shot a 75 on the first day, a 69 on the second day and a 66 on the third day. In the region tournament, Zediker started the first round with a one-over 72 but came back and shot a 2-under 69 in each of the next two days to finish tied for sixth with a 210. Zediker has a 70.9 average for the year and was named one of the five finalists for the NCAA Division II Jack Nicklaus Award, which goes to the National Player of the Year.
Other golfers that have done great for DSU are seniors and Collierville, Tenn. native George Kawel (73.9 avg.), sophomore and Oklahoma City, Okla. native John-Crawford Counts (74.4 avg.), Oxford, Miss. Native and senior Alan Larson (74.7 avg.) and Ruston, La. native and junior Mitchell Haddox (74.9 avg.).
Delta State is currently ranked 22nd in the nation in this week’s Golfstat ranking, which is the highest DSU has been ranked. They were 31st in last week’s ranking.
Key said he’s been pleased with how the golfers have upped their game in the GSC and South/Southeast Region Tournaments.
“I feel like the better the competition, the better our guys compete,” Key said. “We feel like we’re better than what we’ve been ranked. Playing with some of the best teams in the nation has given us that chance to prove we can hang with anybody.”
According to Key, the team will be ready to go in the national tournament.
“Honestly, the regional tournament was a stronger field than nationals,” Key said. “Our regional had the top 12 teams in the nation and 16 of the top 20 teams in the nation and only seven of them advanced including us. The field is actually weaker just based on the geographical location of the better teams, so we feel like we’ve got a good shot. We played the course for the preview event in March. It’s going to play easier I feel like. When we played it in March, it was freezing cold, raining and windy. Now, it’s going to be a lot warmer and in better conditions. I feel that’s going to allow us to play better.”