Golden Flashes fans, meet your 1999-2000 men's golf

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Golden Flashes fans, meet your 1999-2000 men's golf squad.

Ben Curtis, Jon Mills, Danny Sahl, Jonah Karzmer and Brian Miller will travel to Opelika, Alabama, along with fearless leader Herb Page to compete in the 2000 NCAA Championships beginning on Wednesday, believing with all their heart that they have as good a shot as anyone to claim the national crown.

Even if no one else does.

"People say wow, you're going to the NCAAs. But that's what we do here," said Page. "We've made it seven of the last 11 years now, so it's great but it's nothing new. Maybe I'm responsible for the way we think, but we're not just happy to get there like people think we should be. We want to win a national championship.

"I won't say winning is our only goal, or that we'll be disappointed if we don't. But we certainly believe we can win this thing."

And why shouldn't they?

Page's Flashes have put together the best season in the program's storied history, winning six tournament titles and finishing second in three others. They have the talent and experience required to beat any team in any given tournament, a fact they've proven time and time again this season.

Kent State features an ace that would anchor any team in the country in Curtis, a soon-to-be three-time All-American senior who is averaging a school-record 70.84 strokes per round. What more can be said about the Ostrander native, whose multitude of career achievements have been well documented?

Well, try this: When he tees it up on Wednesday afternoon, Curtis will be sitting at 40-under par for the season.

"How can you not feel confident with a guy like Ben playing in your No. 1 spot," said Page. "He was a great player when he came here as a freshman, and he's just gotten better and better. This year he's taken it to another level.

"But college golf is a team sport. And we're fortunate enough to have three guys that would be No. 1s on a lot of teams."

In virtually any other season, Mills would be the guy receiving all the accolades at Kent State. All he's done is close the year with five straight top-five finishes, which includes a shocking five-stroke victory over a field laced with All-Americans at the NCAA Central Regional in mid-May.

"That was my biggest win ever, without a doubt," said the still-smilin' Ontario, Canada, native, who has finished at 11-under in his last two tournaments. "Right now I'm hitting it close and putting very well. I feel like there's nothing to it, and it's a great feeling."

Mills' lengthy list of achievements, which includes nine top-10 finishes in 12 tournaments, has gone somewhat unnoticed due to Curtis' constant headline-grabbing. But Mills insists he doesn't mind living in a teammate's shadow.

"All I know is Ben's made me a better player. I don't think about that other stuff," said Mills. "Just playing golf with Ben every day and watching what he does has improved my game so much. Plus it takes the pressure off when you have guys like Ben and Danny on your side."

While Curtis and Mills have been rock-solid all year long, Sahl's year has been typically choppy. He only cracked the top 10 once in his first nine outings, but has finished 10th or better in four straight tourneys heading into the NCAA Championships.

"I always start the year fiddling with my swing, and I lose my confidence," said Sahl. "I'm a perfectionist, and sometimes that's good but sometimes it's also bad. It takes some time, but I do what I have to do to get things on track by the end of the season. That's when it really matters."

The Flashes always seem to be at their best when Sahl (Alberta, Canada) plays well, and that's no coincidence according to Page.

"When Danny's clicking he can really light it up, and our other players feed off that," said Page. "He's been real consistent for the last several weeks, and our team's been steady right along with him."

With Curtis, Mills and Sahl heading the lineup, Kent State can go three-deep with anyone in the country. But in order to compete with the nation's elite, Karzmer (Boardman) and Miller (Novelty/West Geauga) must continue to support the 'Big 3.'

"Jonah has stepped in and taken over the No. 4 spot as a true freshman, which is fantastic, but he can't be a freshman any more," said Page. "We're treating him like an upperclassmen now, a player we count on every round. Brian's a guy I put in the lineup for the first time at the regional and he came through. He's just a player I have a lot of confidence in.

"We know what we're getting from the top three, but the four and five guys are the key. We need them to come through, and they know it."

The Flashes, currently ranked 19th in the country according to the MasterCard Collegiate Golf Rankings, were seeded 13th and paired with host school Auburn and New Mexico for the first two rounds of the NCAA Championships.

"That's the perfect seed and pairing," said Page. "We'll be playing in front of some huge galleries, and our players love that."

Kent State's best-ever showing at the NCAAs is 13th back in 1994. Page believes that finish can be improved upon with a mere solid effort this week, and drastically bettered with a superior effort and a little luck.

"I'm telling the guys that we don't have to do anything heroic," said Page. "We just need to play steady golf, like we have all year long. All 30 teams in the field are great, but I know we won't be intimidated. We know we can play with anyone.

"Our goal is to be in contention on Saturday morning. If we are, then anything can happen."

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