Kevin Bishop’s recipe for winning included a sprinkle of comedy and a pinch of psychology.
Before Saint Martin’s men’s golf team could make it to today’s opening round of the NCAA Division II regionals at Lincoln, Neb., the Saints coach had to get John Eisentrout, an accounting major and Bishop’s No. 1 player, to realize golf wasn’t like doing a tax return.
“John is a perfectionist,” Bishop said. “I tell John two plus two doesn’t always equal four in golf.”
Bishop also had to get Sheldon Prante to smile and Justin Lanman to focus on his tee shots and not just putting. And Bishop also had to give Olof Rosborg, the Saints’ No. 3 player with the dynamite tee shots and explosive temper, a nickname.
“I called him Woody,” Bishop said with a chuckle.
Rosborg reminded Bishop of Woody Austin, once the angst of the PGA Tour.
“When Woody Austin would miss a putt, he’d bend a putter over his head. He was famous for getting so upset,” Bishop said. “With Olof, it was a matter of getting him to calm down.”
Under Bishop, SMU’s fifth golf coach in four years, the Saints have reached regionals for the first time since 2005 and the second time in school history. They came within three strokes of winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title. Eisentrout, the Saints’ lone senior, came within a stroke of winning the conference tournament title, losing in a sudden-death playoff.
“Our goal coming into the season was making it to regionals,” Bishop said. “It was a stretch. But things fell into place. These guys have been incredible.”
Eisentrout and Lanman battled for the Saints’ No. 1 spot all season, alternating from tournament to tournament. Both made first-team All-GNAC.
Going into the GNAC tournament, there was one stroke separating them for the entire season. After the GNAC, Lanman had 2,002 strokes for the season for a 74.15 average per round. John finished with 2,007 strokes, a 74.33 average. Only five strokes separated them.
Lanman finished second in league in stroke average and Eisentrout finished fourth.
“When we’re on the course, it’s pretty gruesome how we battle each other,” Eisentrout said. “But once it’s over, we’re friends. We talk golf and help each other out when we can.”
Bishop called Lanman “a magician around the greens.” Lanman has a knack for chipping and putting.
“Justin is the best wedge player that I’ve ever seen from 30 yards in,” said Bishop, who has been a golf instructor for 25 years and is the owner of Olympia’s PGA Golf Center. “He’s Phil Mickelson around the green. I told him he’s so good around the green he tends to lack focus on his second shot to the hole. If you put John and Justin together, they’d shoot nothing.”
It’s the second trip to regionals for both Eisentrout and Rosborg, who each made it individually once in the past two seasons.
Rosborg and Prante both made second-team all-conference. Prante, who made the team at an open campus tryout after not playing as a freshman and sophomore at SMU, was the GNAC’s newcomer of the year.
“Sheldon was burned out on golf,” Bishop said. “He came to me and asked if he could try out. I’ve known Sheldon over the years. I knew he could play.”
Prante, the younger brother of Shane Prante, SMU’s former All-American golfer, averaged 76.71 strokes per match, fourth best on the team.
Bishop helped Prante refine his attitude about golf.
“The game of golf was telling Sheldon who he was,” Bishop said. “I tried to explain that golf is not Sheldon. That was the big attitude change. I told him that his whole goal this tournament was when I drive up as his coach he needed to put a smile on his face and make me feel good.”
Prante had a tendency to carry a muffed shot with him.
“He’d sit on a rock and bury his head after shooting a double bogey,” Bishop said. “He’s much better at that.”
The fifth Saint headed to regionals is Zach Dietz, who edged teammate Kevin Jech by a stroke in a team playoff prior to regionals.
Dietz, a sophomore from Idaho, impressed his coach at last week’s GNAC tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. On the par-3 hole to a floating green on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Dietz hit two tee shots into the water and scored a quadruple bogey 7. He then birdied 15, 16, 17 and 18, helping the Saints finish second to Western Washington.
“That was awesome,” Bishop said. “That was the turnaround for us.”
At regionals, 20 teams will compete – 10 from the West and 10 from the Midwest. The top five teams and two individuals not on the top five teams advance to the Division II national tournament, May 19-22, at Loomis Trail Golf Club in Blaine.
Eisentrout is confident about his team’s chances.
“I think our range from one to five is the smallest of any team,” Eisentrout said. “A lot of teams have good one and two players, but their fifth guy is scoring well. We’re balanced.”