Eastern Florida men's golf coach Jamie Howell and his nine players are of two minds heading into the spring championship season.
Obviously aware that he and his team are hosting the NJCAA Men's Division I National Championship tournament in May for the first time and cognizant of the accompanying expectations, the Titans also know a lot of golf remains between now and then and their participation is not a given.
Also, as sophomore Kerry Sweeney put it that the tournament will be played at Viera's Duran Golf Club shouldn't matter.
"It shouldn't be important," Sweeney said. "We have to go out and win. We'd do the same preparation if we were out in Seattle. The goal is still the same."
The Titans are seeking their 14th straight national appearance under Howell. They recorded their best finish in their last 13 tournaments by finishing second last spring.
That the Titans have been stuck at seven national team championships since 1991 also is a motivator and to that end Howell has offered to shave his trademark mustache should his players capture the trophy.
That's not lost on his athletes.
"His mustache is iconic everywhere," said sophomore Michael Keymont. "Anybody who talks about Coach Howell knows that's one of our bets with him that he gets rid of that mustache if we win nationals. I'd say it's a big motivation for us."
Eastern Florida opens the season with the annual Titan Winter Invitational to be played Feb. 8-9 at Melbourne's Suntree Country Club. Fourteen teams are expected. The Titans last won the tournament in 2012.
The Titans then travel to Albany, Georgia for the Feb. 29-March 1 Doublegate Invitational; play in the March 7-8 Florida Tech Panther Invitational at Duran; and compete in in a field full of four-year schools at the April 4-5 Barry University Buccaneer Invitational in Miami Beach.
The NJCAA District 4 Championship is April 25-26 in Cullman, Alabama and the national tournament May 16- 20.
Howell kept the schedule lighter this spring with the aim of keeping his team fresh for the final tournaments.
"We've got a lot on our plate," said Howell. "Everything we do takes us to May. Do I work them hard? Absolutely. Are they busy with classes? You bet."
The Titans will be led by sophomore Kerry Sweeney who last spring won both the coveted Mickelson and Nicklaus awards signifying the nation's best junior college golfer.
Sweeney finished second in the national tournament and had a productive fall season.
Also returning are sophomore Corey Herman who was one of five Titans to compete at nationals and Keymont who battled injuries last spring but rebounded with a productive fall season.
Although only five players compete at tournaments all will be counted on to prepare, contribute and make their teammates better.
"The expectations are the same for everybody on the team," Howell said. "You show up, you do the job, you represent the college. You represent the team. They're a reflection of me.
"Whether they're the number one player in junior college golf – Kerry Sweeney – or somebody in eighth or ninth position on our team there's no change in how I go about addressing that."
The approach is working. As a team the Titans won two fall tournaments something they didn't do last spring.
Howell naturally sees that as a plus.
"This year's team has done very well," he said. "Two wins in the fall out of four tournaments is absolutely super."
As for what it will take to be successful going forward, Sweeney was succinct. "Short game and keeping the ball in front of us," he said.
"Don't be silly with the golf club. Some courses and some shots don't require being careless or doing something reckless.
"Keep it in front of you and be smart about it. Yet again have the patience and discipline not get ahead of yourself.
"I'm learning the steps, what it takes. Be prepared, be poised and have good discipline on and off the course. The big thing for us is staying in the moment."
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