Men's Golf Team Swings For National Recognition
It took nearly four decades to bring a men's golf team back to Point Park's campus. It took only four years to get the program back on the national stage.
After a brief history of men's golf at the school from 1967-72, including a fourth-place finish at the 1969 NAIA national tournament, the Point Park men's golf program was cancelled after the 1971-72 season. After not sponsoring a team for 37 years, the program was reinstated at the University in the fall of 2009.
And in just four short years, the Pioneers got back to the NAIA national tournament in the spring of 2013 by virtue of winning the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament by 16 strokes April 29 - 30, 2013 in Richmond, Ky.
Competing for Nationals
The Pioneers then traveled to Salem, Ore., for the national tourney, where they placed 22nd of 28 teams. In their first NAIA appearance in over 40 years, the Pioneers missed the cut but it was a rewarding event for a program that had experienced the lowest of the lows over the course of four years.
"Going to the national tournament was a great experience and very rewarding," said head coach Gabe Bubon. "I knew it would take a little bit of time, and that it wouldn't be easy, but it has worked just how we planned. I told [senior] Austin [Elder] when he signed that we would be competing for nationals by the time he was a senior. And it came true."
Elder, the only four-year member of this past year's team and the No. 1 man the last four seasons, was the first recruit that Bubon signed in the summer of 2009. The team steadily added pieces around him the next three years to build the program.
The Pioneers' journey to the national tournament at the end of the 2012-13 season started with a victory in their first event of the year - the Allegheny College Invitational on Sept. 16-17, 2012.
The win was significant because when the Pioneers went there in 2009, it was their first tournament since the program was reinstated. In their first event in 37 years, the Pioneers finished dead last of 18 teams.
On Top at Allegheny
Fast forward to 2013, Point Park placed first of 15 teams at Allegheny with many of the same schools in attendance. That event is regularly attended by the top NCAA Division II and III teams in Western Pennsylvania and the surrounding region.
"The win at Allegheny was a big one," said Bubon. "To go from being the worst team there four years ago to winning it four years later shows how much our team has evolved. It has been a weird four years in that way - we've experienced what it was like to be the worst team when you show up for a tournament to being one of the best teams that could win it. It's a great feeling."
For the Pioneers, the victory gave them a taste of winning and set them on their way to a big year. Point Park won a total of five tournaments with the last four coming in a perfect spring season in which it won all four tournaments it entered. The last of which was the KIAC Tournament, and that victory earned a bid to nationals.
The first win of the spring season was at the Berea (Ky.) College Spring Tee-Off in March 2013. With all the KIAC teams in attendance for what was essentially a preview of the KIAC tournament at the end of the year, Point Park ran away with the victory by 21 shots
That Winning Feeling
"The Berea win gave us a ton of confidence," said Bubon. "It gave us a winning feeling, and after that we knew we had it in us to win the KIAC tournament later in year."
The Pioneers went on to beat an NCAA Division II field at the Cedarville (Ohio) Invitational, and they also beat an NCAA Division III field at the Carnegie Mellon Invitational. That set the stage for the KIAC tournament, and by then, winning had become a habit for the Pioneers.
"You have to get used to winning tournaments," said Bubon. "Once we won a few in a row, anything less than first place was falling short. That carried over to the KIAC tournament, where the guys were very, very focused on winning the title and making nationals."
Point Park's talent was on full display at the KIAC tourney as the Pioneers led by an amazing 22 shots after the first day of the 54-hole tournament. With the big lead early, Point Park cruised to victory by 16 strokes.
Sophomore Collin Holmes placed second, and senior Austin Elder finished third. Junior Chris Bowen was fifth to give the Pioneers three players on the All-KIAC team. Junior James Daley also finished in the Top 10 with a tie for ninth. Senior Billy Wivell shot a strong 73 in the first round but then had to withdraw due to injury.
Teed-Up for Future Success
At the NAIA national tournament, Point Park was within striking distance of making the cut after the first few days, but too many high numbers sent the Pioneers home after three rounds of the 72-hole event.
"I wish we would've shot better at the national tournament, but it was a great experience," said Bubon. "I felt going in that we could compete for the Top 10 of Top 15, but we didn't get it done. But I think the guys saw that we can compete right with those teams.
"For our seniors Austin and Billy, it was a great way to cap off their careers," said Bubon. "And for the guys coming back, the national tournament appearance is going to go a long way. The bar of expectations has been raised. I know that they will come back hungry wanting to get back to NAIAs again."
Text by Kevin Taylor, director of athletic communications
Photo by Lori Holmes (the mother of student golfer Collin Holmes)
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park