EAST LANSING, Mich. - The 2017 Michigan State men's golf season saw a little bit of everything: success, disappointment, injuries and yet another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Despite it being a season of ups and downs, MSU found a way for the highs to prevail.
The Spartans will say goodbye to a trio of seniors who helped sculpt the Michigan State men's golf program into what it has become today. Seniors Sam Weatherhead, Charlie Netzel and Sean Friel helped guide MSU to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008-09. MSU also welcomed newcomers who made an immediate impact on the program.
"It is always bittersweet to say goodbye to great student-athletes, who truly believe in the program and the institution. As I told them, I think that they joined the program at a time where future success isn't guaranteed, and we all took a leap of faith with each other," MSU head coach Casey Lubahn said. "Those three seniors won eight times during their career, and they were all part of big wins. The great thing about them is that they all had their own journey that was unique. Some had success early and some had success late some steadily built. They are all diehard Spartans, and they all left a footprint on this program."
Weatherhead endured what became a season-ending hand injury and was not able to play at all during the spring season. Despite Weatherhead's injury, both he and Netzel earned PING All-Midwest Region honors by the GCAA after their solid performances in 2017.
"They are all going to be successful once they leave here in whatever they do, that is the most gratifying thing for me as a coach. Specifically, Sam and Charlie being All-Big Ten and Sean being a guy who played a supporting role and got to contribute near the end. That is special - how you leave the program is more than how you enter it and they all left it in a better spot," Lubahn said.
The Spartans started the fall on fire, finishing in the top four in the first three tournaments of the season. Michigan State won two of their final tournaments of the fall, capturing the Bearcat Invitational and the Quail Valley Intercollegiate. Freshman Kaleb Johnson earned the first of two Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors after MSU captured the Quail Valley Intercollegiate for the second-straight season.
"Kaleb is going to be someone that we anchor this program around moving forward. When he got here, we weren't even sure that he was going to play a lot. He went on to play every week, and he had some unbelievable finishes. There is no replacement for that kind of experience," Lubahn said." Andrew Walker was in the same kind of situation where played in some big wins early in his career. He had an unfortunate injury and gained a lot of perspective. It was a heralded class with those two and Austin (Jenner), and now they are going to be pretty experienced and mature sophomores next year."
Enduring a string of injuries throughout the season, the Spartans persevered throughout the spring, always fighting and never giving up. With the injuries, all 12 players on the roster were able to see action during the season. Every player on the roster got better because they got to compete in tournament action. Despite the medical problems, Michigan State still won the Colleton River Collegiate in March. Netzel also earned medalist at the Bluffton, South Carolina tournament, using a final round 68 to help capture the victory.
"I felt like the group had worked so hard to build; they had always looked up and said this is where we are going. When they were starting to get there and competing on an elite level, there was a great amount of satisfaction. There was also a great amount of hunger. The lasting disappointment of the season was that they never got to fulfill the potential that we had in the fall, but if you had told us that we were going to lose all those guys and a couple guys from the year before and still make the NCAA Tournament and still win three times, I would suspect that we would all wonder how we could do that," Lubahn said.
Juniors Michael Sharp and Charlie Green also progressed throughout the season. Sharp played in every tournament this season and finished second in the Bearcat Invitational and fourth in the Colleton River Collegiate. Green came on strong at the end and played in both the Big Ten Championship and the NCAA Regional.
"We will look to Michael Sharp and Charlie Green to be primary leaders for this team next year. They know now exactly what it takes. Coming into this year we knew we were going to start a bunch of guys who didn't know what it took. They will be able to teach next year's freshmen, which is a huge class for us, very quickly," Lubahn added.
The Spartans' 2017 season was one of trials and tribulations, but it also was full of success and surprise. This season looks to help set the stage for future success in the men's golf program. The future became even brighter with the introduction of the Lasch Family Golf Center which opened in June of 2016.
"This group of Spartans got to see and appreciate the building process not just the building but also the program. The tournaments got better and more competitive. Their teammates around them got better. Michigan State golf was elevated through their work. It wasn't boring. They all faced adversity in their own way," Lubahn said.