Colorado State's winning team (CSU Athletics/Twitter photo)
We’ve all felt the yearn for Chick-fil-A on a Sunday afternoon. For the time being, Laura Cilek will associate that feeling with team victory.
Cilek has only been in Fort Collins, Colo., for a few months, but on Oct. 7, Colorado State earned its first outright team victory since 2004 (the team had tied for first in 2010 at the MountianView Invitational). The Rams won the Ron Moore Intercollegiate at Highlands Ranch Golf Club after finishing 11 shots ahead of Ole Miss.
To celebrate, Cilek was hoping to splurge on Chick-fil-A milkshakes – she had promised the team they could indulge if they could get under par as a team. They did that every day on their way to a 4-under team total. Alas, the Ron Moore ended on a Sunday.
“We went to Shake Shack instead,” Cilek said, laughing.
The women’s golf job at Colorado State is her first head coaching gig, following three stints as an assistant coach at Iowa, Middle Tennessee State and Oregon. Cilek has been in the game long enough to know that setting lofty expectations can work against you in this game. She has spent her first weeks at Colorado State observing player dynamics, building relationships and earning trust. Cilek, who played her college golf at the University of Iowa, sometimes gets her clubs out and goes head-to-head with her players at practice – perhaps that’s in a best-ball scenario or even a worst-ball competition.
“We got into qualifying, learning about their games, then we started that second week to pick some things out from their stats, figure out how we could play better golf,” Cilek said. “We really focused on thinking better.”
Ultimately, that was the biggest factor in the Ron Moore victory. Colorado State players did not play 54 holes of mistake-free golf, but Cilek watched her players think their way around the course and recover when necessary.
“When they’re all looking at you when you’ve won a golf tournament and you’re the head coach and you’re like, ‘OK, this is pretty awesome,’” Cilek said in describing the victory. “We organized them in a way where they felt confident and they could go out and play their best golf. That’s very special when you get to see them do it from start to finish.”
She knows she’s lucky she stepped into such a coachable group, but that group feels lucky to have her, too.
There are two USGA champions on the Colorado State roster in senior Katrina Prendergast and junior Ellen Secor. They partnered last May to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. The best way Cilek can describe them is through a genuine love of the game.
"They really, truly love golf and you can tell it by the way they practice, by the way they talk about golf, by the way they conduct themselves,” Cilek said.
Secor describes this squad as motivated and Prendergast agrees. In a tag-team phone interview, they showed that that competitiveness even extends to their relationship on the course. Secor won the Ron Moore individual title but Prendergast came in second.
“Even though I lost to her by one,” Prendergast said, “I want to kick her butt next week.”
Asked to name the toughest part of Prendergast’s game, Secor nearly screamed into the phone.
“There’s so many things!” she said, finally settling on Prendergast’s clutch putter. Prendergast praised Secor’s iron play.
The biggest difference that Prendergast notices from this season to last is an overall maturity. Colorado State took the lead into the final round of last year's UC Irvine Invitational, but didn’t have the emotions to deal with that and finished an eventual third. Secor praised her coach for better equipping the team by making the whole process simpler.
“When you make it a little easier,” Secor said, “the golf gets better.”
Prendergast explained that as meaning that team members got down on themselves too quickly in the past. It’s hard to hold your own in a tournament when you can’t take it hole by hole.
Secor hopes that every Colorado State player gets an individual victory before the season is over. For a group that has never experienced a team victory, the only bittersweet part of the Ron Moore stemmed from a shot-gun start.
“The hardest part was walking off the green, hearing that we won and not having your team there,” Secor said.
That and learning there would be no Chick-fil-A milkshake. Those are good problems to have.
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COACHES CAN PLAY, TOO:
In case you missed it this week, a coach got in the winner's circle, too. In Michigan, Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll proved why she’s the winningest player in Golf Association of Michigan history. The Michigan State coach won her second GAM Tournament of Champions title after prevailing in sudden death.
“I think it helps to be in competition, go through the pressure and the things my players have to go through, and I want to keep a competitive edge,” she told the Golf Association of Michigan after her victory.
Michigan State's best finish so far this season has been a second place in its season-opening Mary Fossum Invitational.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
: Pace-of-play monitoring at the Washington-hosted Edean Ihlandfeldt
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the 2018 USGA championship season. Lara Tennant became the final champion crowned on Oct. 11 when she won the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (you can read more about Tennant’s story here
It’s been such a fun year, what do you say we do it all again in 2019? See you April 27 for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball.
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Q&A WITH…Steven Fisk
, a Georgia Southern senior who has had three individual victories this fall. Last week’s victory at the Fighting Irish Golf Classic brought his college win total to six. If you recognize the name, it’s because Fisk had a putt for the first 59 in college golf last fall (he ended up with 60).
It’s not easy to win, especially in today’s college-golf climate. Did you figure something out with the first win that has opened the door to more?
My ballstriking was really, really good the first two wins. And then the third one I actually putted very well. I struggled a little bit in the second win for a nine-hole stretch or so, but overall, probably ballstriking. Definitely ballstriking in the first couple and just had some really good momentum going after the first win and was able to carry it over into the second and the third.
This is win No. 6 of your college career. What’s the difference between finishing in the top 10 and finishing as the top guy?
For me personally, I think I do a good job of even though I want to win so badly, I don’t let that get in my way. I stay as patient as I can and wait for my opportunity to come and keep believing in the fact that something good is going to happen. Something is going to go my way and maybe spark my round toward the end of the round and maybe be able to make some birdies late or either I got off to a good start in the final round and I try to carry that momentum over and keep it rolling for the rest of the day but it’s all about just trying to put yourself in that position and taking advantage of that position as many times as you can.
You’ve never worked with a swing coach, you’re kind of self made. How would you describe the process of building your swing and keeping it in check?
That’s correct, I haven’t ever worked with anyone and in the past I’ve had coach take a look at alignment or something like that, but nothing really technical at all. A lot of it is just feel for me, trying to create shots. . . . I’ll work the ball a little bit – left to right, right to left, -- and just I like to pick whatever shot works the shot works the best for whatever shot I’m looking at. I’m not going to try to play the exact same shot no matter where the pin is or where the trouble is. Wherever I want to be, it’s just kind of situational for me.
Looking at this fall season, three wins in a row. Sometimes maybe you can feel that coming. What was your summer like?
The summer was a little different actually. I had played the second half of the spring with a minor back injury that held me back a little bit and then this summer I took a lot of time off. I only played the Players Amateur and the Sunnehanna Amateur this summer. Both of those tournaments, I took five to seven days off before I even started the events, just to rest my back and try to be as healthy as I could be before the five or six days that I was going to be on property at those tournaments. I was supposed to play the Western Amateur at the end of July and I actually got sick and ended up in the hospital a few nights.
The three wins this semester might be a little bit surprising on paper, but once I got healthy – I was able to rest a lot this summer – and once I recovered from being sick, we had our first tournament at the Ocean Course at Kiawah, maybe a little jittery and a little uncomfortable without playing a whole lot. I think I played two tournaments between NCAA regionals and our first event this year so I wasn’t really in competitive mode but I was able to get back in that mindset pretty quickly.
You almost had 59 last fall. Have you ever had a feeling like you had on the golf course that day?
It’s a feeling I’ve had a few times. It’s definitely rare and it’s a lot different, but I got off to a pretty quick start that day (I started on 10) and I think I birdied 16, 17, 18, 1, 2, and 3, and that kind of got me to where I was going low instead of just having a pretty solid round. It was strange because even though I was going that low I just felt so in control of everything that I was comfortable, even in those situations. I ended up parring the last two holes. I executed every shot really, really well coming down the stretch. It was kind of funny because you shoot 60 and you walk off the course and you feel like you left something out there, but it’s something you can definitely live with because you knew you executed everything like you wanted to and you can always live with that. It was a different feeling. There weren’t a lot of nerves involved actually just because of how comfortable I was with my game that day. It was special.
You’ve been at Georgia Southern now for a little over three years. What has been your biggest area of growth since you got to college?
Maturity. That’s it. I came in kind of a hot-head. I wasn’t as good of a putter in junior golf, that’s kind of what held me back back then. Right before my freshman year, during my freshman year, I got a lot better at that and that continued to be one of the strongest pats of my game. I struggled with my attitude my freshman year and a little bit my sophomore year. At times it would hold me back, just getting a little too wound up. I’ve learned patience -- which was a long, long process for me -- but it has definitely paid off. It’s been really good. Everybody always told me I’d play better if I could just stay a lot more calm and I didn’t believe them. Here I am a few years later saying it’s probably the most important thing. It’s way more important than any shot I’ve hit since I got to school. Learning how to manage my emotions and have the patience that it takes to play at a very high level, it took a long time but it’s well worth it.