November 7, 2012 12:25:29 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- There was a point last season where Mississippi State player Axel Boasson said he didn't want to work on his golf game.
The then-sophomore certainly didn't see himself at that time being in contention for a tournament victory but that's exactly what happened for him and his team last week in Greensboro, N.C.
"I struggled mostly with the mental part of the game and my attitude toward my game," Boasson said. "I would even get to the golf course last year with my swing being so far off tilt and think 'man, this just isn't going to work for me today' and it was nice to be on the range thinking 'yup, this is going to be a good day'."
The Bulldogs leapfrogged the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Sunday's final round to claim the 2012 Bridgestone Golf Collegiate championship, in what would be a difficult day for most squads on the cold North Carolina morning.
State went into the clubhouse Saturday night only one stroke behind UTC after shooting a 4-under-par for the first two rounds of the Bridgestone. The narrow lead was not enough however, as MSU quickly gained control of the lead early Sunday morning.
The victory for MSU is the first by Homan's squad since the 2009 March 22-24 Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. The Bulldogs claimed two wins that season. State has placed Top 5 or better in four tournaments this fall campaign, which is the most since the 2007-2008 season. In that season the Bulldogs advanced to a NCAA Championship berth.These types of statistical trends have Homan referring to this team "as the most talented and deepest group" he's had at MSU.
MSU finished at 3-under-par 861 for the tourney, the second best score for State on the year.
"We're always trying to get better every day but these players don't need a lot of seasoning right now," Homan said. "We're ready to throw them into the fire and that's exactly what we've done this fall."
Boasson carried MSU the whole weekend at the Bridgestone, by turning in the best performance of his career. The Iceland native led the field at Grandover Resort with his 8-under-par after the first two rounds, but slipped to second place after he fired off an even par on Sunday. Boasson's previous best career individual finish was a tie for 15th-place.
"I wanted to win it so bad and knew exactly where I was from the lead the entire final day," Boasson said. "Here's why golf is so different than other sports -- if you worry about what your teammates are doing out there, you're going to lose focus on your round. That's not doing the team any service at all."
Boasson, who has always been a long hitter off the tee but has failed to find consistency from 100 yards in, had 19 birdies in the three rounds because of premier short game play over the weekend.
"When he got back here at the end of the summer, he finally started to see payoff on all the things he's worked on over the last two years," Homan said. "It was like getting a whole new player here. We knew he had all the talent in the world and will make birdies because he hits it so much further than the average player."
Three years ago, Boasson was prepared to sign with a junior college but the unknown talent from Iceland decided to stop by the MSU campus at the request of Homan to hear about what his role could be in the Southeastern Conference program. The number one junior ranked in Iceland spent his first two years trying to make the transition to Starkville.
"I think I've finally started to putt better than I ever have in my entire life," Boasson said. "I feel good and incredibly happy in my experience to be here at Mississippi State and let's hope I can keep this up in my final season next year in Starkville."
Along with Boasson's incredible weekend, MSU junior Chad Ramey shot a 71 for all three rounds at the Grandover Resort to finish in fourth place individually. The 3-under-par effort was the third Top 5 finish of the season for the Fulton, Miss., native to close out his fall campaign.
"Chad is the best player on our team but seeing Axel play so well also takes so much pressure off one guy," Homan said. "We had four guys this week play well enough to win the tournament individually if some putts had fallen for them."
Senior Robi Calvesbert and junior Joe Sakulpolphaisan both stringed together a solid Top 25 performance this weekend after finishing tied for 15th. The pair each shot a 4-over-par in the Tar Heel State this weekend for MSU. Calvesbert and Sakulpolphaisan both earned their fourth Top 25 posting this year after the Bridgestone performance.
"Getting Robi and Axel back from this summer was like getting two new recruits but then you add in the fact that they've competed in this league already," Homan said. "They have really emerged as leaders of this team that work really hard."
Rounding out Maroon and White's scorecard was true freshman Haraldur Magnus. The Iceland product tied for 43rd over the weekend. Magnus shot a 12-over-par 228 in only his third collegiate tournament played.
"We never had a score all weekend that was above 2-over-par that we counted," Homan said. "One through four and even our No. 5 guy was in there grinding all weekend gave us so much security as a team."
What the Bridgestone Invitational victory did for a program currently ranked 43rd in the country in the latest Golfweek Magazine team rankings, which is still behind nine Southeastern Conference programs, is give this veteran MSU squad confidence to either work on their individual games or take a much needed break before they tee it up again on Feb. 9-10 in the Gator Invitational at the University of Florida.
"We need to work on hitting it closer with a wedge in our hands," Homan said. "We're not good enough in that area of the game like most Top 10 programs are right now. However, we can get there and I love the way this team strikes the ball. It's the best ball striking team we've ever had here at MSU."
The spring slate will begin with a trip to Gainesville for the Gator Invitational and will feature six regular-season tournaments. Capping off the spring season, State will host its first home tournament in the men's program's history. The Old Waverly in nearby West Point will be the site of MSU's historic hosting come April.
"We think we can go to the Gator and win and there's no way as a team we would've said that last season," Boasson said.