Darton’s Nick Green, like the rest of his teammates, won’t have any national tournament experience until he tees off in today’s opening round.
ALBANY — All Nick Green could do last year was watch as his fellow Darton golfers fell apart in the final round of the NJCAA national tournament, shooting a tournament-worst 26-over and finishing in fifth place.
Green, an alternate last year in Newton, Kan., was helpless to do anything about it.
But that’s what makes him so determined to make this year count.
Green and the Cavs enter today’s national tournament in Lubbock, Texas ranked 13th in the nation, but they are ready to surprise the field with their first title since entering Division I two years ago.
“It all depends on that first round. We have to get it going early,” Green said. “There’s going to be nerves on the first tee, but you can’t look at it like it’s the national championship. You have to go out and play like it’s a normal golf tournament. You can’t play scared. I watched so many scared golf shots last year.”
There could be plenty of nerves again this year as Darton coach Bill Jones III is taking five players — Green, Parks Brown, Taylor Martin, Robert Robertson and TaeHyung Kim — with no national tournament experience.
Two freshmen — Chase Jones and Neil Graham — played on last year’s national tournament squad, but Jones quit before the season began and Graham has struggled on the course this year.
“This is different,” Bill Jones said. “It’s not what we were planning on. You always expect a few guys to be there as freshmen and be leaders the next year, but this group of guys has a lot of potential.”
Brown, who was the Region XVII individual champion, believes the inexperience could work both ways.
“There is some inexperience, but I guess that could be a good thing because everyone is hungry and ready to compete,” Brown said. “Nobody really knows what to expect, so I guess we will all go through it together.”
All five Cavs have the potential to post the team’s low score, and Green, Brown and Martin have all won individual tournament titles this spring.
But the team has struggled, only winning two tournaments, with one of them being the Region XVII tournament, which offers little competition for Darton.
It’s Darton’s 12th straight trip to nationals and third since moving to Division I, but Jones understands his team might get overlooked during the four-day tournament.
“We are definitely flying under the radar,” Jones said. “We have been very up and down this year. We have a had a couple of good finishes, but I still think we haven’t played up to our potential at all this year.”
Jones said he wouldn’t be shocked to see his team surpass last year’s fifth-place finish.
“If they play to their potential, that’s the caliber of team we have,” Jones said. “We don’t have a sure-fire No. 1 that is going to go out and have a chance to be in the Top 5 every single day. But we had three different guys win tournaments this spring, so we have a lot of guys who can do it.”
Green couldn’t imagine ending his Darton career any other way than with a title.
“These guys are like family, and I look up to coach Jones and (Director of Golf Dale) Dover like dads,” Green said. “It’s going to be sad to go away, so hopefully we can end on a good note.”