Saluki golf ready to tee off spring season

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Sophie Whitten | @swhittenphotography

Erica Kerr tees off at the Battle Between Southern and Bradley March 14, 2021, at Hickory Ridge Golf Course in Carbondale, Ill.

The women’s and men’s golf teams are prepared to get back into the swing of things after a four-month hiatus.

Unlike most sports offered at Southern Illinois, golf plays throughout the academic year. Each team participated in a handful of tournaments in September and October, and will return to the course starting in February until the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in April.

Fifth year golfer Moyea Russell is in the midst of her final season at SIU. She earned the conference’s Golfer of the Week award for her performance at the Hoover Invitational in Birmingham, Alabama, back in September.

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“The fall was like a test to see how we all work well with each other, and what we need to work on, and overall how we can just be like a cohesive team and play well, and ultimately get the championship in the spring,” Russell said.

Russell is taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA by athletes from the 2019-20 season. When sports were shut down for the year in March 2020, she was recovering from an injury, and the extra year gave her more time to do so.

“Now, getting this extra year back, I was able to play my senior year no problem, and then this year no problem, hopefully,” Russell said. “That extra year gave me the little bounceback that I needed to recover from my injury.”

Another golfer playing her fifth and final season for the Salukis is Rose Bundy. Like Russell, Bundy was a junior when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and has been dealing with the effects of that through the back half of her collegiate career.

“I think people think maybe [COVID] doesn’t affect [golf], but I think most of my teammates would agree that there’s a big impact,” Bundy said.

Danielle Kaufman is the director of golf, overseeing both the men’s and women’s teams as well as being the head coach of the women’s team. In her view, golf’s individualistic nature makes it so the pandemic does not affect play on the course as much as it would other team sports.

“When things were really bad a couple years ago, honestly, we probably could have still played, other than the travel. That’s the only thing that would keep us back,” Kaufman said.

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However, pandemic-related restrictions stripped away much of the team aspect of golf during the 2020-21 season. Several Saluki athletes have noted a feeling of isolation when playing their sport, and in a sport like golf where players are typically playing on their own, that isolation is even greater.

“I would say we’re probably, compared to other sports, more used to isolation, but for us it was on a different level,” Bundy said.

In most team sports, the players involved are able to spend most of their off time together because of their sport’s necessity for close contact. By contrast, golf is played individually, so close contact among teammates is not deemed necessary.

“When we were in the pandemic mode, we really were only allowed to be close on the team with the people that we roomed with,” Bundy said. “Nobody got [COVID] during the season, so it worked out, but it was tough.”

What sets college golf apart from recreational golf is that golfers play for their team, and work together throughout the season to help each other improve and build relationships with each other and their coaches. As COVID narrowed golf down to focus on individuals, it stripped away a major part of the sport.

“We came here to be with other people to motivate us, to push us, to have that team aspect,” Bundy said. “Otherwise, for most golfers, there’s no point in doing it. This is something that you can do individually.”

As the 2021-22 season resumes, the focus of the team shifts towards the looming conference tournament. After half a year of playing tournaments and practicing, the end of the year is finally in sight.

“I’d say it’s just more exciting because you have the anticipation for the championship at the very end,” Russell said. “All your hard work is for that last tournament in the spring.”

Starting the spring season in February means weather will not always be permitting, especially in southern Illinois, as evidenced by the recent winter storm that blanketed Carbondale in snow. To accommodate, the golf teams typically play tournaments in the southern United States where the weather tends to be more suitable for golf.

“Every spring we try to do 3-4 matches south so we can actually play. We don’t want to play in super cold weather,” Kaufman said. “It’s a true test for us, especially the first few tournaments going south, to see who’s practiced and who’s ready to go.”

Kaufman’s duties for both the women’s and men’s programs have her traveling across the country, constantly shifting her focus from one team to the other. She credits her staff – including 21-year volunteer assistant coach Denny Kortkamp, director of operations Sharon Lipe, and graduate assistant Lauren Bond – as well as the golfers themselves for keeping the program running smoothly.

“It’s a lot, but it’s rewarding,” Kaufman said. “I enjoy it, both teams. I have a great bunch of girls and a great bunch of guys. They’re all eager to win. “

For Russell and Bundy, the decision to exercise their extra year of eligibility was relatively easy. Granted a once-in-a-century opportunity, neither hesitated at the chance to have one last year representing Southern Illinois University.

“I told myself coming back, golf is important, but lifelong teammates as friends, and relationships with my coaches, to really get something more than just golf out of being here was really important to me,” Bundy said. “Which is why I am very grateful for every moment and every tournament that we get to go on, and every day I get to be with my teammates.”

As for goals this season, Russell hopes to make a push for the All-MVC team and potentially earn MVC Golfer of the Year honors

“My main goal is just to leave it all on the course, and just have no regrets when I’m done with it,” Russell said. “I’ve put my heart and soul into all of this for five years, so I might as well walk away happy with everything I’ve accomplished.”

At the time of printing, the women’s golf team is playing in the Lady Bison Bay Point Classic in Panama City, Florida. The men’s team will begin their spring at the Pizza Hut Pat Hicks Thunderbird Invite in St. George, Utah on February 11-13.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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