Football isn’t the only sport at East Carolina to lean into the idea of “No Quarter.” The men’s golf team has demonstrated the idea of getting stronger as time goes on not just in tournaments, but in the whole of its schedule as well.
At the micro level, the Pirates dramatically saved their best rounds for last at their past two competitions — their own ECU Intercollegiate at Brook Valley and the General Hackler Championships in Myrtle Beach.
At their home tournament, the Pirates were trailing 18 strokes and standing in 10th place after the first round and came back to win the championship, besting 11 other teams.
In Myrtle Beach last weekend, the ECU squad finished in seventh place in a field of 13, moving up three spots in the final round after combining for a 1-under par 289 on the final day.
Both tournaments were a display of character and tenacity, head coach Andrew Sapp said, and the late-round success has him pondering how much the team could accomplish if they turn up the heat in all three rounds.
“It’s kind of one of those, hopefully, ‘turn the corner’ moments for our guys, just so they believe that they can do it in that situation,” said Sapp, who is in his second season leading the Pirates. “Now we’ve got to figure out how to get out to a better start and then finish the tournament strong.”
The team’s triumph at the Brook Valley tournament was particularly sweet, Sapp said, because it was played at home in cold temperatures and the team shot a 7-under 281 on the second day. It was one of the best team rounds for the Pirates all year and the lowest they have shot cumulatively since early October.
I guess it just shows our potential,” said junior golfer Patrick Stephenson, who shot a 67 in the ECU Intercollegiate and finished second overall. “It shows what we’re capable of. I’ve always said that we have a lot of talent, it’s just a matter of getting out of our own way.”
The tricky thing about pushing teams to excellence in golf is the individual nature of the game, Sapp said. It’s impossible to choose one area of emphasis that will help every golfer. Instead, you have to recognize each athlete’s precise weakness and customize a plan that will help him overcome it.
“It’s always different with each guy — this guy needs to work on his ball striking, this guy needs to putt the ball better, this guy needs to work on his chipping,” Sapp said. “We sit down with our players after each tournament and kind of do a self-assessment, try to get things squared away in terms of a plan to attack your weaknesses and build up the strengths you have.”
One Pirate who is just starting to show his collegiate potential is A.J. Beechler, a freshman from Pinehurst. As the seventh-place finisher in Myrtle Beach, Beechler is getting a vision of how competitive he can be at ECU.
“A.J. really is starting to hit his stride,” Sapp said. “I think he’s starting to figure out that he can be really good. He shot a 67 at our tournament, and then a 66, which was tied for the low round, at Myrtle Beach, so I think he’s getting to the point where he says, ‘You know, I could go out and win these tournaments. I just need to put three good rounds together.”
With nine tournaments since September, the golf season stretches out to cover virtually the entire school year, which makes the next three weeks even more important for the team as the look at their second No Quarter push — the final three events of the year culminating in the American Athletic Conference Championships in Palm Harbor, Fla. April 21-23. The breather will allow each golfer to fine tune his game in an effort to play his best golf when it matters most.
“We’re definitely trending in the right direction, but we’ve still got some work to do,” Stephenson said.
For his part, Sapp would like to keep only the season-ending No Quarter, in hopes that the golfers will come out at full strength on the first day of their remaining events and eliminate the need for a dramatic comeback. But he will take motivation however it comes, even if it means finding a way to attach red “No Quarter” flags to every golfer’s bag.