The NCAA men s golf championship was part of Brad Heaven s schedule for three years while he was at the University of Toledo. Now, the biggest tournament in collegiate golf comes to Inverness Club, near the UT campus.
If only the two had converged a little earlier.
Heaven, one of the most decorated golfers in UT history, was 39th in the 2001 NCAA, 33rd the following year, and made the elite field for the tournament again as a senior in 2004 but failed to make the cut for the final round. The New Zealand native can only wonder what he might have been able to accomplish on the lush and familiar Inverness layout.
I have absolutely lovedInverness since the first time I played it, and I feel privileged to have called it one of our home tracks during my college term, said Heaven, who turned pro after leaving UT and now plays on the Canadian Tour.
I guess it helps that I vividly remember watching Greg Norman and Paul Azinger duel for the 93 PGA Championship at Inverness as a youngster growing up in New Zealand.
Heaven got his first taste of the NCAA as a UT freshman, when the event was held in North Carolina, near Duke University. The golfers gathered on the basketball court at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke to them before the event.
I ll never forget the inspirational speech that Coach K gave, and also the size of the field and the caliber of the players, Heaven said. It s easy to be a little awestruck and overwhelmed by the whole thing.
The Rockets were right there with the big boys after the first day, sitting in third place, but they staggered on the second day and missed the team cut. Heaven and UT teammate Sean McTernan qualified to play the final two rounds as individuals.
The feeling isn t the same when you can t share in the experience with your teammates, Heaven said.
The next year Heaven got the attention of the amateur golf world by shooting an opening-round 69 at the NCAA, playing on the Ohio State Scarlet Course.
I was whisked into the media tent to answer a barrage of questions, and this was a little different than playing in the MAC championships, I thought to myself.
That year saw the Rockets advance to the final rounds of team competition, and had them playing in the final group going into the third round. Toledo slipped to a 14th place finish, but Heaven said it took a number of great players to move that deep into the elite field.
The support we received that week was incredible, and the week was a huge success and a fitting end to the careers of two of our very best, Kevin Kornowa and Alan Murray, Heaven said.
Heaven was back in the NCAA tournament as a senior, but missed the cut and did not play in the final rounds.
That was a huge disappointment, as I knew that neither I, nor my teammates, had played anywhere near our potential, Heaven said. It was the only time I ve ever shed a tear over golf, as I knew in an instant walking off No. 18 that my career at UT had come to an abrupt and untimely end.
Jamie Mauntler, the Bowsher grad, former UT golfer and current coach of the Rockets, said Heaven put a lot of extra pressure on himself in that 2004 NCAA.
Brad had been playing so well that year, and I think he just tried to carry the team, Mauntler said.
He is definitely the most talented player I have ever been around, and in college he was just better than everyone else. That year there were only two or three players in the country as good as him, and I think he was just nervous about it. He was there to win the NCAA championship, rather than just compete in it.
Heaven, who was a second team All-American, said Inverness will challenge collegiate golfers in many ways.
The NCAA chooses courses that will test the players in every department of their game and any weaknesses will be quickly exposed, he said. Hence, to win an NCAA, you have to be the complete player and have the mental fortitude to handle all the distractions that come with being in contention for such a prestigious event.