Many freshmen athletes spend their first few years on a college team waiting for their chance to compete, but that hasn’t been the case for golfers Earl Gerlach and Chris Niemiec.
As the only two freshmen on the team, Gerlach and Niemiec have played in every event this year and helped lead Bradley to a seventh-place finish last week at the Hiddenbrooke Intercollegiate in Vallejo, Calif.
“We don’t really feel like the young guys that the seniors are going to go out and whip every time we play,” Gerlach said. “I feel like [Niemiec] and I can go out and compete with anyone on our team, as well as a lot of other teams in the area.”
Gerlach currently holds the third lowest scoring average on the team at 77.6, just behind sophomore Coby Thompson (77.5) and junior Zach Wanken (76.8). He has also recorded the most rounds in the 70s on the team this year, as he broke the 80 mark in 15 straight rounds to start his career.
After a slower start to the season, Niemiec has settled in and worked his average down to 79.9 after leading the Braves with a 23rd-place finish last weekend.
“My first couple tournaments I put up some huge numbers,” Niemiec said. “Now, it feels like I’m starting to get used to it, so it’s getting a lot easier.”
Both players agreed there are a lot of adjustments to be made in the transition from high school golf to collegiate competition, but they said they feel the playing time they have received as freshmen has made that transition much easier.
“The first thing I noticed is that the courses are much harder,” Gerlach said. “When you come in, you have this attitude of playing high school golf, where the courses are much shorter and easier. But now the pins are tucked and the courses are longer, so its tough to get accustomed to playing these types of courses.”
The two freshmen said one of the most unforgettable experiences they have had so far was teeing off against the University of Illinois, which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.
“That was definitely a little bit intimidating,” Niemiec said. “But it was really cool because we got to see how good those guys really are. They all have the potential to go out and shoot 63.”
Both players are originally from Illinois, with Niemic graduating from St. Charles and Gerlach from Normal West, but they said the weather has made preparation for the spring season a little more difficult than in their hometowns.
“Around Chicago there are domes all over and heated stalls, so wherever you want to go, you can hit balls,” Niemiec said. “But here, it’s ‘Well, I guess I can go putt.’”
Gerlach added he was happy there is now a putting green and short-range chipping equipment in Haussler Hall but still said there isn’t much to help players prepare for the spring tournaments.
Nevertheless, both players said they were happy with the contributions they have made to the team so far this spring, but agreed there is always room for improvement.
“Coming in, I just wanted to play well and play in every tournament,” Niemiec said. “It was really nice to get in the top-25 in last week’s tournament, but now I need to just keep it going.”