Sand Creek Country Club is awfully familiar to the Bradley men’s golf team, but especially to head coach Jeff Roche.
This past tournament in Chesterton was his fourth as a head coach and after winning at Sand Creek twice with the program, he knows the ins and outs of the terrain pretty well.
“A majority of the guys have played there [before],” Roche said. “It was kind of nice to have my perspective and their perspective. We really talked about some key holes and how to manage through those to keep away from some big numbers.”
That talking paid off, as the Braves finished seventh out of the 12 teams competing which was their highest finish of the season thus far. Junior Josh Kirkham earned his first top-20 finish of the year, tying for 12th with a four-over-par 220 for the 54-hole tournament. In his first round,, Kirkham shot a career-best three-under-par 69 and took Roche’s advice to achieve it.
“A lot of it just comes from working hard and sticking to what coach calls ‘the process’”, Kirkham said. “I know one key moment that kind of defined the tournament was on [hole] five; [Roche] looked at me and was like ‘just trust.’”
Kirkham has been the top golfer in all three tournaments for the Braves this year and once again, he credits “the process” as the benefactor of his success so far and going forward.
“[I’m] not trying to change a lot,” Kirkham said. “Just kind of sticking to ‘the process’ and building on the positives.”
Junior Roy Radke had the next lowest mark for the Braves, tying for 34th with a 233 playing as an individual, including his best outing of the season on Tuesday with a 76. Sophomore Brady Kreiter and graduate transfer Aaeri Krishnan tied for 46th and 48th respectively, with the latter beating out senior Jalen Hodges by three shots, despite Hodges’ season-best 73 in the third round to tie for 55th.
Notwithstanding the high finish, Roche knows there are still things that can be improved.
“Even though we finished higher this week, there was still a pretty big gap between us and even the top five teams, so we’ve got a number of things to work on,” Roche said. “Minimizing penalty strokes, converting more putts that are makeable and just keeping ourselves where the ball is in play as opposed to just wasting shots here and there.”
The Braves have a long road ahead of them before the MVC Championship in April, but Roche thinks the team is starting to find a rhythm now with three tournaments under its belt.
“We’re making good strides,” Roche said. “We’re starting to make some progress and people are starting to see some results even though it didn’t necessarily show up [in the scores] this week.”
Bradley will head to SIU-Edwardsville on Monday and Tuesday to compete in the Derek Dolenc Invitational at Gateway National Golf Club, another course at which the team has a lot of experience.
“We’ve seen the golf course before, so we’re not going in blind,” Kirkham said. “Coach knows how to win there [and] can give us his pointers on what we need to take advantage of out there.”