Saluki men’s golf looks ahead to 2019 Missouri Valley Conference season

By Adam Warfel, Sports Editor

Southern’s men’s golf team is on the rise as they get set to begin the 2019 spring season and work towards their second Missouri Valley conference title.

The Salukis started the 2013-2014 campaign ranked as the 228th best men’s college golf team according to Golfweek. After their 2018 fall campaign, the Dawgs are now ranked as high as 114 and even shortly snagged the number one rank last September.

In the fall season for SIU, seniors Luke Gannon and Peyton Wilhoit led the Valley in scoring average at 71.14 and 71.36, respectively, which made them first and second in the conference.

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“I started scoring better, my short game is a lot better,” Gannon said. “My putting improved quite a bit from [last] spring.”

Even though the team has not competed together in two months, the time off allowed for the players to have some rest not easily available in the grind of the season.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of a break and not play every single day,” Gannon said. “We’ve had a break from playing and feel more fresh.”

The schedule Southern has this spring will put them up against some of the best programs in the country in preparation for the MVC championship in April.

“Playing top 50 teams all the time, playing higher ranked teams, should make it better for us come April,” Gannon said.

Wilhoit, as a senior, reflected on what it was like his freshman campaign when SIU last won the MVC championship in 2016.

“When we came here, I remember sitting here freshman year,” Wilhoit said. “You want to win four in a row. You want to win them all.”

Aside from the conference tournament, looking ahead to the schedule Wilhoit has marked the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate as one of his favorites in his last season.

“The Wyoming one is probably the best tournament we play here,” Wilhoit said. “That’s the one that every year is on the calendar I’m circling.”

Gannon and Wilhoit both have a bit of friendly competition going on between each other to be the best on the team after finishing within less than one stroke of each other last season.

“If anything starts slipping in your mind you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t want Luke to beat me,’” Wilhoit said. “There’s always just that little bit of ‘I want to take him down.’”

Looking ahead to the conference tournament in April, Wilhoit mentioned the fact rankings really don’t dictate the success of a team.

“I’m pretty sure when we came in freshman year we were probably one of the middle pack ranked teams,” Wilhoit said. “They don’t know what’s going on day in day out.”

For Wilhoit, the end goal in his final season at Southern is not just to raise the Missouri Valley Conference trophy in April, but to take the program further.

“Walking out going to regionals and then going to nationals,” Wilhoit said. “The MVC isn’t the top goal for us, I see the MVC as the first step into the postseason.”

Wilhoit said he sees the potential in this team and truly believes the standard this year has been higher than any year he’s been on the team.

“It’s the best team we’ve ever had here,” Wilhoit said. “The standard here in this locker room, on the course, in qualifying are completely different than anything we’ve ever had.”

Head Coach Justin Fetcho recalled the opportunity to be the best team in the MVC is why they work hard as a team and to win for the seniors.

“That’s why we do it, that’s why we practice every day,” Fetcho said. “You want to be able to do that for the guys that have given so much to the program over time.”

Fetcho looked forward to the opportunity in potentially winning another MVC title, as a way for the freshmen to have something to look forward to.

“For them to be able to come in and get the taste of success right away,” Fetcho said. “It’s huge for our program to be able to talk about winning this thing.”

Looking at competitors also vying fo the Valley crown that could challenge Southern, Fetcho nodded towards Illinois State.

“From a regular season standpoint, I think Illinois State has done a good job,” Fetcho said. “They have a good coach, a good program and good players.”

The Salukis have a great opportunity to see how their program matches up against the bigger schools with the way their schedule is structured.

“Every time that we have the opportunity to go play really good household name teams, it’s a way for us to gain confidence no matter how we go out there and play,” Fetcho said. 

Gannon and Wilhoit did not just lead the team with scoring average, but as the seniors and as the spring season rolls around, their leadership is important among the four freshmen on the team.

“Ever since these guys got back to campus, I’ve been on them about being leaders, just to help groom the freshmen,” Fetcho said. “If we’re going to do anything with this team this year odds are those freshmen are going to have a part in it.”

Fetcho looked back to the success the team had in 2016, how a senior leader helped propel the SIU program towards the MVC championship and how that will be important going into this season.

“We had a senior leader on that [2016] team that knew how to rally everyone together, that knew how to be positive.” Fetcho said. “When you have leaders, your team can feel that.”

Fetcho realizes if everything goes like it should this spring, this team will leave it’s mark on SIU history.

“You’re looking at a team that if the spring goes anywhere close to what we want it to,” Fetcho said. “We’re talking about one of the best Saluki golf teams that has ever been through the program.”

You can keep up with Gannon, Wilhoit and Coach Fetcho as they begin their chase for the SIU record books on Feb. 16th, where they will tee off at the Gator Invitational.

Sports editor Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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