On March 12, the Georgia Southern University men’s golf team was in the middle of a practice round for the Schenkel Invitational, the second year in a row that they would hold the prestigious tournament.
Teams from all around the nation traveled to Forest Heights Country Club in Statesboro to compete for the Schenkel title. GS was the defending champion and had strong chances of winning it again.
There were rumors that the tournament would be canceled, but things were very uncertain at the time. The coronavirus was beginning to slowly spread throughout the country, but sports were still going full swing.
Within a few moments, the tournament was canceled with a tweet from the NCAA. Eventually, they would find out that their season was done for good.
There were four seniors on the team and two tournaments left to play before the conference championships. Collins gathered all of the players for a short meeting and gave them all of the details he had. The room felt a wave of sadness, but he reminded the team to just control what they could control. They were small pieces of the puzzle as college athletes in a global pandemic.
“Even then, we still thought we would be able to play in future events after they get things figured out,” Collins said. “When everyone got the tweet from the NCAA ... the first thing we did was try to communicate to all the players that we were all in this together.”
In the next few days, athletes were sent home, and there were a few days of seniors wondering whether they had just played their last course as collegiate golf players. Their season had been canceled indefinitely, and their march to the conference championship came to an abrupt end.
“The phrase that we kept using as a team is that it felt and still feels like a movie,” Collins said. “It’s like it’s not really real and just something that we’re going through. We’re ready to ... wake up and it be the first round of the Schenkel.”
Though Collins was initially shocked and upset about the season, he has worked through his emotions by putting the situation in perspective. All of his team members were healthy, they all went home to households of good families and he has time to really sit back and realize how much they cherish the game.
This was the first season without the best golfer in GS history, Steven Fisk. When Fisk graduated last season, he was the undisputed leader of the team and on track to begin a professional career after earning a spot on the U.S Walker Cup team. A hand injury sidelined him for the majority of this year, and while he’s recovering, he took a volunteer coaching position at GS.
“The thing I’m most proud of … is that they were able to grow to a point where we were competing with the nation’s best week in and week out,” Collins said. “We won two out of six events and ... Steven helped propel them ... and he had a huge hand in what they were doing even though he wasn’t playing on the team.”
Looking back on the shortened season, he points out the team’s heightened confidence. They worked their way up to No. 63 in the nation and first place in the conference. Sophomore Ben Carr ranked fifth in the Sun Belt and the team was in prime postseason for postseason success.
When the NCAA announced that it would grant spring sport athletes another season on March 30, senior Jake Maples announced that he was fully on board for another year in Statesboro.
No other seniors have made a decision yet, but Collins supports everyone’s choices in this unprecedented situation.
“In one afternoon, they lost ... their whole season,” Collins said. “For the seniors who are not coming back, they lost the end of their career.”
Amanda Arnold, The George-Anne Managing Sports Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org