UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's golf is headed to Columbus, Ohio, set to make its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA regionals.
Following a fast and furious end to the regular season, the Nittany Lions blazed through the Big Ten Championships, returning to Happy Valley just in time for final exams. Taking into account the busy finish, Penn State head coach Greg Nye opted to give his team some time to take a deep breath before diving into NCAA preparations.
It was just a little more than a year ago that the Nittany Lions were prepping for a cross-country road trip to the Washington Regional with a certain level of uncharted uncertainty in terms of course familiarity.
That won't be the case this year.
"We played well the last few weeks and we earned our way to Columbus rather than being shipped to the south so that's exciting that we've got a chance to go back to Columbus where we've played several times," Nye said. "That ramps up a lot enthusiasm there."
While course familiarity is certainly a major benefit, the Nittany Lions have the potential to build on the success of a nearly identical lineup from last year.
Among the group is senior first team All-Big Ten selection Cole Miller. Alongside Miller is sophomore Ryan Davis, who most recently advanced in the U.S. Open local qualifier, along with assistant coach T.J. Howe.
"It's exciting we've got two of our players who have gotten through local qualifying and I was fortunate enough to do it as well so that's nice," Howe said.
While all three will now have the opportunity to move on to the U.S. Open sectionals, the entire lineup will turn toward the Scarlet Course, which awaits Penn State at the Ohio State Golf Club May 14-16.
"It takes a ton of preparation going into this," Davis said. "It's a really competitive field. It always is, the best teams in college golf. We just have to go out there with the best intentions, do our prep work here and then don't force anything and whatever happens, happens."
For Miller, it's one last time for the Big Ten Championships runner-up to help guide the team toward the NCAA Championships round, having posted a three-round score of three-over 219 (74-71-74) as an NCAA Washington Regional medalist a year ago.
Prior to Miller, the last Nittany Lion to win an NCAA regional though, was none other than his assistant coach, T.J. Howe.
"It's my first time back since 2010 I believe so we're going to a place we know and we've had success at," Howe said. "I'm really looking forward to what this next week can bring us."
When it comes to Miller though, for Howe, it's more about his intangibles and mindset that stand out a bit further than the obvious talent on the course.
"He's such a leader. I think it's just his will," Howe said. "He's a good player, we all know that but he's able to come back from stuff that most players aren't able to come back from. If he has a bad score, he'll make birdies on the next three holes and he'll be right back where he was. That's kind of what I see from him, he never quits fighting."
For Davis, he'll make just his second appearance at the NCAA regionals, with a critical year of experience under his belt. Advancing with the team to the NCAA Championships, he closed out the event leading the Nittany Lions with a three-round score of two-over 218 (76-71-71).
Davis, like the rest of the lineup, is hardly a stranger on the Scarlet Course, having most recently tied for second at the Kepler Intercollegiate, registering his first career top five finish a few weeks ago.
"The Scarlet Course is all about course management," Davis said. "It's not a course where you can go out and shoot five or six under par, you just have to keep grinding. It's one of those places where if you lose your train of through and what you're trying to do, you can really make some big numbers out there."
While Penn State's experience playing the course multiple times will also serve as an added benefit, the addition of unpredictable weather conditions could play into shaping a variety of outcomes.
"What will be different for us is from three weeks ago - spring has sprung here and the grass is growing here," Nye said. "Their rough is going to be longer. The green should be a little better. We're going to have to be ready for that. Golf courses change, day to day so if we get different wind condition, hopefully maybe we've seen that wind condition maybe one of the years we've been down there."
Ask any Nittany Lion though and there's no easy way to describe the course, even among experience. Now rested and focused though, the Nittany Lions will spend their practice time here focusing on strategy and mindset before hitting the road for Columbus.
"It's definitely a two-step process," Davis said. "We have to do all the work out there on the course and we also have a lot of meetings and determining how we want to play the course. It's definitely a pretty strategic side to it so if we get those two aspects down, I think we have a really good chance."