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Men's golf looking for consistency to help reach larger goals

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Sophomore Will Bishop led all UK players in qualifying with a score of -14. Sophomore Will Bishop led all UK players in qualifying with a score of -14.
Brian Craig and his men's golf team open up their fall slate with a trip to Zionsville, Ind., Saturday with a clear goal in mind: Improvement. But that goal is just one of many goals in Craig's greater scheme.

With Kentucky going up against some very talented golfers from Indiana University, the University of Illinois and Ohio State, among other opponents, UK will get its first early test and an opportunity measure where its game is.

"This is a good (way) to start the season off because it's a good blend," said Craig. "But you will get a gauge because there are some teams that are really good."

In order for Craig's players to be where they need to be, and that's preferably in the top-five when this weekend is all said and done, his players have to focus on themselves rather than the competition. If they do that, Kentucky should be in contention near the end.

"The only thing we can control is the decisions we make, the attitude we have, how we think about ourselves, so my goal would be that we do that well," said Craig.

The object of the fall for the men's golf team this fall is to continue to master its game with an eye toward next spring, when the competition matters most. The spring brings some of the most competitive fields in the country due to UK's affiliation with the Southeastern Conference. The SEC boasts arguably the best golf conference in the nation.

Craig believes that a NCAA championship is attainable at UK, and that the road to that title is via a different title: the SEC championship.

"As a team, our goal is always to be a in a position to win the SEC championship at the end of the year," said Craig. "If we can do that, then we're going to be in a position to win the NCAA championship because the SEC is as good as it gets."

This weekend will give the Wildcats an opportunity to see just how much they have to improve to get to that level. After qualifying, Craig likes what he's seen from his golfers, especially sophomore Will Bishop who ran away with the top spot.

Bishop won the five-round qualifier by eight shots, including a 10-under par round of 62 to post a team-best 14 under for the qualifying rounds. As surprising as that score appears, Craig was hardly surprised by the success of his sophomore.

"No, it wasn't a surprise at all," said Craig. "About March of last year, he became a new player and has been maturing since then and getting better."

Craig described Bishop's transformation as a player as going "from a boy to a man." A good portion of that improvement can be credited to former golfer Mads Kristensen who pulled Bishop to the side last season. Kristensen's message to Bishop made an immediate impact, because since that moment, Bishop hasn't turned back.

"When one of your peers does that, sometimes it sticks, and (Bishop) will tell you it stuck," Craig said. "And ever since that point he's been a different guy and a different player."

But Bishop isn't the only one that has his coach excited. Those who qualified, other than Bishop, senior Chase Parker, juniors Cody Martin and Stephen Powers, and sophomore David Snyder each played well, save for one round during qualifying.

Craig came away from qualifying encouraged, but is looking for more consistency out of his team this weekend.

"It seemed like everybody had one really bad round except from Will," said Craig. "But then we had some really good stuff too, though. We had some good shots as well as some very low scores to go in there with that. We just need to be more consistent overall. You just have to be in men's golf."

The Wolf Run Invitational will present Kentucky with a tough task, as the course itself is one of the most challenging courses they will play on all season. It requires a high golf IQ and the ability to execute in order to find success.

Craig is looking for the Cats to bring both a high IQ and execution out on the course, but he wants them to play with some attitude. While the spring portion of their schedule is the one that counts, they can't reach their goals without first taking care of business in the fall. That's where things went wrong last year.

Last season, UK lacked the consistency necessary to string an entire year together. They struggled mightily in the fall, and despite a strong spring, there failures in autumn held them back. He hopes a more experienced group of players will help them this time around to achieve more consistent results. If they are capable of that, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to achieve their goals.

"This year is all about consistency, because last year we didn't have a good year, but we had a solid spring," said Craig. "The fall killed us. We have no excuses not to be more consistent; these guys are not green behind the ears anymore. We need to get to the point when we have our 'C' games we are still a competitive team in that field, and if we do that, we are going to go a long ways in the post season."

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