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Men's golf finds fall consistency, raises expectations for 2013

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Will Bishop captured his first collegiate victory at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate tournament this fall. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Will Bishop captured his first collegiate victory at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate tournament this fall. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
At the dawn of the fall portion of its 2012-13 schedule, Kentucky men's golf coach Brian Craig said he hoped that his team would build consistency. The quest for consistency was a direct result of an uneven 2011-12 season which found Kentucky all over the map, especially in their '11 fall campaign.

With a fifth-place, a fourth-place, and two second-place finishes in their four fall events this season, the Wildcats made significant strides on that front.

"We made a lot of progress," said Craig. "We were consistent. That was the biggest thing we were looking to gain coming into this year because last year we were wildly inconsistent and it cost us."

What it cost them was a shot at an NCAA tournament berth, a destination that Kentucky hasn't reached since the 2008-09 season. Last season, the Cats were considered a bubble team, but Craig felt that his team had a few more quality wins than some of the other teams on the bubble. But despite their success in the spring, it was their fall struggles that kept them from returning to the NCAA field.

Craig was fairly confident heading into the fall that his team would resurrect its game and find success this fall. And as the team improved from tournament to tournament, a leader emerged for the Wildcats.

Though he's just in his second season of collegiate golf, sophomore Will Bishop has become a budding star and a leader on this Kentucky golf team, both on and off the course.

Bishop picked up an individual tournament victory, albeit a weather-shortened championship, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The Lexington, Ky., native picked up his first collegiate win shooting a career-low equaling two-under-par 70 in the lone round of the tournament, propelling Kentucky to a second-place finish behind Ole Miss.

And while his game has been on a steady rise since last season, his work ethic off the course has been equally impressive to his head coach.

"I'm really happy for Will because in the spring semester he really buckled down, changed his attitude, matured," said Craig. "He's one of our team leaders now, on and off the golf course. He does everything the right way, great kid, works hard, super-talented, great fundamentals. There's no reason he shouldn't keep getting better."

The Querencia Cabo Collegiate tournament was the final tournament of Kentucky's hectic fall schedule. With the Wildcats finding success and consistency over the last four events, they head into the winter with a much sweeter taste in their mouth than a year ago.

While Kentucky's play in the fall may not carry over to the spring, the Wildcats should carry a bit of momentum at least into the winter. Craig says his team will a more cheerful disposition and that seeing the fruits of their labor will help them continue to push harder in the offseason.

Now, as UK takes a bit of a break from the game to recharge the batteries as the seasons change, the Wildcats continue to work with an eye toward the spring. The golfers are still getting into the weight room bright and early at least three times a week to work on their bodies and strength.

Though the Wildcats are working on their physical strength individually, they will be much stronger as a team with a new addition to its roster. Craig reeled in junior transfer Ben Stow from England, and after sitting out the fall portion of the schedule, the transfer from the United Kingdom will now be competing for UK in 2013 as the most accomplished amateur player on its roster.

His teammates are cognizant of Stow's success as well. Craig says Stow's presence and track record alone has immediately elevated the team as a whole.

"Ben, you can tell clearly, demands a little bit of respect because of his record," said Craig. "It's also because of the way he takes care of his business. He doesn't fool around. He works hard in the classroom. He works hard on the golf course. That's a good model for his peers."

With how the Wildcats performed over the last few months and the addition of Stow to the 2013 rotation, the bar has been raised with an eye towards a run in the Southeastern Conference and a return to the NCAA Tournament.

"This year, for us, I think that our expectations are pretty high because we add a new player in Ben Stow in the spring," said Craig. "Stow is the most accomplished player on our team in amateur golf. And by far."

But the one thing the Cats must carry in their bags with them this spring over from the fall competition is its consistency. Consistency was the biggest key to UK's success this fall, and consistency will be instrumental for the Wildcats again in the spring.

Without it, those high expectations and dreams of postseason success may not come to fruition.

"Consistency in golf is huge," said Craig."That's where all the rankings and postseason births are based on: consistency."

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