After an up-and-down regular season altered by COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri, men’s golf is ready for the Conference USA tourney on April 26-29, and a chance to earn a bid to the NCAA Regionals.
One major change to their season has been the number of tournaments played. The men’s golf team normally plays nine or 10 tourneys during a season leading up to the conference championship but had five this year instead. One event, the All-American Intercollegiate, was canceled due to Winter Storm Uri and the team’s home event on October 18-20 was its lone competition before the spring.
“It would have been nice to have a few more tournaments under our belt, but it is what it is,” Head coach Brad Stracke said. “I think [the freshmen] have progressed nicely and [senior Viktor Forslund]’s game is coming along, getting back to where it was. [junior Lenny Bergsson]’s played solid this whole year.”
Looking at the C-USA tourney field, six teams are ranked in the top 100 nationally and three in the top 50 by Golfstat as of April 20. Those top three schools are the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (No. 34), the University of Alabama-Birmingham (No. 35) and the University of Texas-San Antonio (No. 41). North Texas is the next-highest in the conference at No. 72.
“I think we just got to focus on ourselves, we can’t focus too much on who we’re playing against or what’s the score that’s going to win the tournament,” Bergsson said. “We got to focus on ourselves, play our game and be smart. I think good things are going to happen if we do that.”
Youth has been a key part of the men’s golf team all season with three freshmen often finding themselves among the top five golfers competing at tournaments and each one showing promise.
“We’ve had three freshmen playing basically the whole year and they keep on getting better,” Stracke said. “They have been great, could be the best freshman class I’ve had since I’ve been at North Texas. We’ll see how they progress and get better as time goes on, but I’m really thrilled to have those guys be part of the program and they’re showing a lot of promise.”
Argentinian Vicente Marzilio has cracked the lineup for all five tournaments and has either been North Texas’ best or second-best finisher in each one. Fellow Argentinian Diego Prone has played in four of five tournaments and been the second-best Mean Green finisher twice.
South African native Nikhil Gopal joined the team to begin the spring semester and has played in all four tournaments since then. He was North Texas’ top finisher at its most recent event — the Aggie Invitational — played on April 9-11.
“I think Coach [Stracke] does not believe in seniority, which is a good thing for us [freshmen],” Gopal said. “As youngsters and as freshmen, that gives us an opportunity to play and lead. No matter our age, we can be leaders on the golf course and on the team. The way we carry ourselves, we can all be role models to the older guys or the older guys can be role models to us. It’s a really nice dynamic.”
Consistent production from Bergsson has been another key for the team this year. He has appeared in all five tournaments and been the team’s top performer in two of them, highlighted by a No. 8 finish at the Louisiana Classics where the team finished at a season-high No. 3.
“Lenny just looks more confident out there,” Stracke said. “He knows what he’s doing, his strengths and weaknesses. He’s come along nicely and he gets better every year. It’s just nice to see his progression and how he carries himself. […] That’s what is fun about coaching is watching kids get better.”
In order to win the C-USA tournament, Gopal said the team simply needs to play to its capabilities and overcome high-pressure moments, which he said they have struggled with at times this season.
“We don’t necessarily have to play out of our socks to win,” Gopal said. “If we do what we are supposed to, what we are capable of doing, we can [win]. I think it’s going to come down to staying calm in the pressure moments because winning anything, whether it’s golf or football, those last few minutes are always a bit more jittery than the rest. We just got to keep calm in those pressure situations and so far this season I think that’s been the difference.”
Featured Image: Junior Lenny Bergsson chips the ball towards the green during a Men’s Golf practice on Feb. 5, 2021. Image by Zach Del Bello