The first 36 holes of the season-ending tournament begin Friday morning in Maineville, Ohio.
MAC programs compete against each other at various events throughout the season, and across the country, but this is the only event where all nine come together. Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, and Toledo will join NIU just outside Cincinnati to determine the conference champion.
The trip to this year’s championships is the culmination of a successful season for NIU, and memorable careers for three individual Huskies. Redshirt seniors Andrew Frame and Tim Kay, and senior Jeff Dick, will put the finishing touches on collegiate records that have shaped the team since the mid-2000s.
For Frame, a good showing this weekend would bring his time as a Huskie full circle.
As a freshman phenomenon in 2007, Frame paced NIU with a tie for seventh at The Medallion Club in his first MAC Championships. He would go on to be named the conference’s Freshman of the Year after the final round, the first Huskie to be so honored since 1993. Frame then posted 18th and 21st-place finishes in 2008 and 2009, respectively. A redshirt 2010 season forced him to miss last year’s tournament, but Frame will be featured as the Huskies’ number-two player in this weekend’s lineup.
Kay also carries three MAC Championships appearances into Ohio this weekend. The veteran posted his best showing in the event, a share of 29th, in the 2008 edition held at Longaberger Golf Club. Kay has seen his share of ups and downs over a career spanning back to the fall of 2006, but it appears his game is on the uptick after a spring-best tie for 25th at this past weekend’s Boilermaker Invitational. The Bartlett, Ill., native will look to tally one more solid showing for the Huskies before hanging up his golf bag Sunday evening.
Dick’s reputation precedes him at this point.
His 74.96 scoring average currently ranks as third-best in school history, only behind NIU Hall-of-Famer Mick Soli and early-2000s star Nick Schenk. Two individual victories, 19 top-20s, and seven top-10s after first stepping foot in DeKalb four years ago, Dick only has one item left on his to-do list: bring home a MAC Championship.
The Texan’s prospects are promising this weekend, having just turned in a fifth-place performance at the Boilermaker Invitational that featured a field-best 68 in the first round. If “J.D.” can put together four good rounds at TPC River’s Bend, look for both him and the Huskies near the top of the leader board.
Redshirt sophomore Griffin Bauman roars into Maineville playing some his best golf in his two seasons at NIU. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native turned in a tie for 11th last week, his best performance since a top five at the 2010 Branson Creek Invitational. Bauman will be making his second MAC Championships appearance this weekend, having finished in a tie for 37th at last year’s event at Longaberger Golf Club.
Sophomore Bryce Emory joins Bauman in the starting lineup as the underclassmen ready to receive the torch being passed from the retiring seniors Sunday night. Emory, competing in his seventh straight tournament, has emerged from the pack of up and coming Huskie golfers as one ready to help carry the team into the future. He has finished among the top-30 in three events this spring, something he accomplished only once before 2011. His progress peaked at the Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational, where he recorded a career-best tie for fifth. Emory will playing in his first MAC Championships this weekend.
“The range is totally under water, it’s really wet here,” said NIU head coach Tom Porten. “We are hoping the weather improves. Today is supposed to be windy and a little warmer, but the course is going to be real wet. We are going to find out today what the TPC River’s Bend is all about in our practice round.
“This [tournament] is the culmination of a lot of hard work. Our seniors want to play their best golf at the end of the year and earn an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs. We are really excited to have the opportunity to improve upon last year’s performance at Longaberger. I like our chances. We are playing our best golf now and have improved at each tournament over last the three weeks. Hopefully Mother Nature allows us to play all four rounds. This is what we’ve worked for all year long — to prove that we are one of the top teams in the MAC. That’s what we are trying and going to do.”
The MAC will challenge TPC River’s Bend for the first time. “TPC River’s Bend is one of the best courses I’ve ever seen,” Arnold Palmer said of the course he designed in 2001 as part of the PGA’s Tournament Players Club network. “The King” winds the course over the Ohio valley foothills and provides stunning views of the Little Miami River. It will play to 7,180 yards and par 72 for this event.
The course’s par-four fifteenth may be where the tournament is won or lost. Players will have to hit a tee shot to the middle or left side of the fairway to give them a good look at the green. From there, even the best drives will still leave players around 170 yards to reach in regulation. The trouble isn’t over once players can reach for the flat stick – the undulating green may wreak havoc on the field. The hole checks in as the club’s second toughest hole for handicap purposes, but is a good bet to produce the highest scores this weekend.
Fans can follow all 72 holes of action live at Golfstat.com starting Friday morning.
For more information on NIU men’s golf and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.