After a long winter and spring, Cyclone golfer Mitch Crook (Richards) was finally able to get on the course and prove he belonged with the best in the country at the NJCAA Division II Golf Championship in Foley, Alabama.
After Crook qualified in October at the region tournament, he had months to prepare for the national stage at Glenlakes Golf Club (May 21-24). However, it took time to adjust to the new terrain.
“We had trouble adjusting to the Bermuda grass, and it took a few days to figure out. Golf played in Illinois is so much different than golf played in Alabama,” said Cyclone golf Coach Matt Lovelace, in his second year taking a Cyclone golfer to nationals. “First, the ball flew farther. Even with the crazy humidity, the ball was flying at least 10 to 15 yards farther. The grain of the grass would send the ball off in the direction of the grain instead of the slope of the hills. We had to adjust our reads to the way the grass was growing.”
That coupled with poor putting and nerves caused Crook to struggle to a 94 the first day. He and Lovelace quickly reassessed the game plan and played better the next day.
“It was tough to get used to. After two practice rounds I thought I had it. But I let myself get mad in the first round. I realized I had to play how I always do, and it got easier from there,” Crook said.
Crook adjusted to the yard differences, made some putts and dropped 14 strokes off his first round score (80). That confidence boost moved him up the ranks and prepared him for round three, which played out similarly. Crook played solid golf once again for an 82. He was set to play a final round; however, Mother Nature interfered.
Every day of the tournament endured a rain delay for an hour. Because of the weather, the NJCAA committee worried the leading golfers would be unable to complete the final round. In the end, the leading teams and individuals were allowed to continue but not the rest of the field.
Crook’s first round score put him too far back, and he was one of the players cut from playing the final round. None of the golfers from Region IV made the cut except the team from Black Hawk College.
“I was mad because that day was my last day I’d play golf with my coach and for Moraine Valley. It was nice to have a last relaxing day, but I would’ve rather played golf,” Crook said.
Although his Cyclone career ended sooner than he would have liked, Crook appreciated this unique experience. “Nationals was amazing. I was playing against those who are better, and that makes you want to play better. I kept improving,” he said. “It was the most official golf round I’ve ever played. You felt like you were a professional. It was fun meeting people around the country, and really a cool thing to experience. My friends and athletes at Moraine Valley were excited for me, and my friends and family were very supportive.”
Crook will be missed next season, but Lovelace has only high praise as his golfer moves on. “Overall it was a great experience for Mitch. His solid play this season has provided him with a scholarship to continue playing golf at Saint Xavier University,” Lovelace said. “As he continues to gain experience on the course, Mitch will be very successful as he finishes out his college playing career.”