More Patient, Experienced Gilbert Set for NCAA Regional Play
May 15, 2013
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas senior Chris Gilbert is good, the best the Jayhawks had on the course during the past two seasons and owner of one of the lowest season scoring averages in KU’s recent history, but he’s not immune to hitting a ball into a hazard on occasion. How Gilbert has responded to those situations, however, is a big reason why the senior will tee off as the top-seeded individual golfer at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Blessings Golf Club Thursday morning.
Gilbert, who opens his second NCAA Regional appearance from the first tee with the No. 1 golfers from (13)UMKC and (14)Alabama State at 10:20 a.m., has had a special season with five, top-10 finishes and a share of the individual title in two events, but his biggest shot of the year may have come after one of his worst.
Kansas head coach Jamie Bermel saw Gilbert’s defining moment in the fourth event of the season, when instead of trying to force something after driving into a hazard on No. 12 at the Brickyard Collegiate, he simply created an opportunity for magic to happen. Gilbert holed a shot from the fairway at an estimated distance of 100 yards, then carded three birdies over the final seven holes to finish tied for 11th in a competitive field. The next weekend, Gilbert logged his first ever tournament victory to close the fall slate.
“He had to take a drop and got a little frustrated,” Bermel recalls. “That was sort of his way of doing things the first couple tournaments – he’d play 50 holes pretty well, and four of them would back to bite him. He was talking about this crazy shot around the trees, cut it off the water and get close to the green. I said no, we’re not doing that. We’re going to hit an iron, get down to 100 yards and see if we can get it up and down for a par and he made it for birdie from the fairway.”
Added Gilbert: “My round was starting to slip away but I stuck to the game plan, didn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary and that completely flipped my demeanor for the day. I was about to go one over par and was looking to hit a great shot, but instead I holed it out and flipped my round around. I birdied the next hole and played under par from there. That really got my confidence going and showed how if I stayed patient, I can get things going on any hole.”
Being patient has been a forced theme recently for Gilbert, who opens play on the par-72, 7,251-yard course as part of a 14-team field that includes five individuals. When the Simi Valley, Calif., native tees off, it will have been nine days since he learned of his postseason fate, 21 days since his last competitive round and 725 days since his last NCAA Regional appearance as a sophomore. He admits he’s anxious but the patience has become part of the game he’s worked to improve over the last year and since he finished tied for 55th at the NCAA Southwest Regional in 2011.
“I’ve definitely gotten stronger and added some distance off the tee,” Gilbert said. “That, along with all the work I’ve put in on the short game has really paid off. My demeanor on the course and mental game has improved – I’ve become more patient and stopped beating myself up as much as I used. I think those three things have really helped me and why I’ve been able to win some tournaments.
Gilbert’s season highlights include tying for the lead at both the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate and the Hawkeye Invitational to close the fall and spring regular seasons, respectively. Most recently, Gilbert was in contention for the individual title until the final holes at the Big 12 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., where he finished tied for 10th in a field that included fellow conference mates and Fayetteville Regional participants (1)Texas and (3)Oklahoma State. Gilbert also finished in the top-five at the Louisiana Classics ahead of all five of the golfers from Fayetteville’s No. 6 seed Illinois.
“It gives me the confidence that if I can control what I can and get all parts of my game going at the right time, then I know I can advance because I know I can play with anyone here,” Gilbert said of his familiarity with the top teams in the field. “I know that if I get my game together, I can shoot low enough scores to get the job done.”
To advance to the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship at the Capital City Club in Atlanta (May 28-30 – stroke play), Gilbert will have to be the low individual not associated with one of the five advancing teams during the three-day, 54-hole tournament.
“It’s like qualifying school – I always relate it to that,” Bermel, who took Colorado State to 12 NCAA Regionals in 13 years prior to taking the rebuilding job at Kansas last summer, said. “It’s just survival. You have to keep your wits about yourself and go out there and play solid. It’s one of those deals where it’s going to come down to one stroke – it typically does. If you can just pay attention, concentrate for 18 holes every day, good things will happen. Teams or individuals that get a little sloppy, get a little tired and don’t finish the round, turn that 74 into a 76.”
Along with tournament-host Arkansas, No. 5 Texas, No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 21 SMU, No. 28 Kent State, No. 32 Illinois, No. 40 Liberty, No. 45 Tulsa, Kentucky, Colorado, Indiana, UNC-Wilmington, UMKC and Alabama State make up the Fayetteville Regional team field. Mitchell McLeroy (Stephen F. Austin), Pep Angles (Central Arkansas), Patrick Newcomb (Murray State) and Paul McConnell (Texas-Arlington) join Gilbert as the individuals playing in the tournament.
Gilbert will look to become the first Kansas golfer to qualify for the NCAA Championship as an individual since Andy Stewart, who tied for 53rd at the NCAA finals in 2001. Live scoring for each round is available at www.GolfStat.com, with daily recaps on Gilbert’s progress posted to KUAthletics.com.
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