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Men's golf looking for breakthrough moment at SECs

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Head coach Brian Craig (right) looks for his team to find their strokes at the SEC Championships this weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Head coach Brian Craig (right) looks for his team to find their strokes at the SEC Championships this weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It has been a season full of this, that and the other for the Kentucky men's golf team. Not once has head coach Brian Craig seen his team put together a full tournament in which it completely fulfills the potential that each individual has within him.

That feeling can be awfully burdensome while trying to win golf tournaments and make a successful run in the postseason. There is also a positive perspective to consider, and that's the attitude that Craig has chosen when looking forward to this week's Southeastern Conference Championships.

"I feel like we're ready to play well. We've just kind of tread water this spring," said Craig. "We're in good shape for the postseason. I feel like our best golf is in front of us. We just haven't been able to get all the guys playing well at the same time, so maybe this will be the week."

This team is certainly capable of winning and playing well. They did so multiple times during the fall season and added one of the top European amateur players to the lineup this spring in junior transfer Ben Stow.

The spring weather has been unseasonably unkind in the Lexington area with cooler temperatures, rain and snow, and unkempt golf courses that have hindered the development of the Kentucky golfers. Less time out on the course means less repetitions and experience to prepare for tournaments during the season.

Craig and his team refuse to use the conditions as an excuse, but it's a fact. With better weather finally on the way in the Bluegrass state, UK is looking for their swings to come around much like the warmer temperatures and heat up at the right time.

"The weather's finally breaking, so we can get on grass a little bit more around town here, which should help," Craig said. "It's just a matter of time, but it would be fun to see it happen this week."

Where Kentucky golfers have struggled most is with themselves. The field isn't too tough, and the UK players are plenty talented. If anything, they are trying too hard to find their desired level of success.

Craig wants his guys to stop trying to be Superman out on the golf course and make smart, calculated shots instead of going for the home run on every swing. If everyone buys into that, the results will come.

"Everything that's costing us and holding us back is unforced errors. It's things that are pretty simple, pretty basic, under our control," said Craig. "We're putting good pressure on the golf course to shoot low scores - that's the mark of a good team - but we've had a lot of errors that have been real basic."

After building a solid foundation in the fall, it's possible that expectations for the spring may have gotten the best of the UK golfers. Mounting pressure of living up to the successes of the fall season may have contributed to Kentucky's struggles so far. Stow was looked at as a difference-maker in the lineup, and maybe it was too much to ask so soon.

So Craig has been working individually with his athletes, whether on the course or in private one-on-one sessions trying to get his players to play within themselves and to play together, rather than trying to do everything on their own. While expectations can be good, he doesn't want them to outweigh the enjoyment of playing golf.

"I think that's one of the challenges Cody (Martin) had. We talked about that," said Craig. "He's just got to focus on what he can control. I think Ben's done that. We've talked about that too where he just has to settle down and focus on the process of playing golf and not be burdened by any kind of expectations."

Craig also made sure to let his players know that golf isn't like other sports. Hustling will not cure a golfer's ailments on the course.

"You don't grit and bear and it makes it better. It actually makes it worse," said Craig. "It's not football. It's not basketball. You don't hustle harder and it makes it better.

"It's a whole different deal, a whole different mentality of being able to let it go and relax, be confident, trust. That was you can swing freely and confidently."

Despite the struggles, Craig is still confident in his team. His team is confident as well. If anything, their confidence may have played a small role in their inconsistent play this season.

"I don't think for one minute that this team doesn't believe in itself," said Craig. "If anything, we might be a little overzealous in that category in not choosing the right strategies on the golf course because you feel like you can hit that shot or you should be doing this, when actually you shouldn't be. If anything, we go that route, as opposed to being able to dial it back a little bit."

That's why Craig continues to feel excited about his team's chances headed into SEC and NCAA Regional play. The effort, will, and desire to win are there. They are playing well enough to win, so now, they just need to put it all together at the right time.

"It's not like we're out there scraping around trying to get it done," Craig said. "We're playing well, we just haven't scored nearly as well as we've played.

"Normally when that happens, it's just a matter of time. That's why I'm encouraged."

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