The Augusta University men’s golf team won the Southland Conference championship last season to earn their first NCAA Regional since 2019.
Coach Steven Paine was named the conference’s coach of the year while Stefan Jacobs was tabbed freshman of the year. The success came despite the growing pains of a new coach coming in and trying to establish his program.
“I think any time you come in as a new coach, the biggest challenge is just earning the trust of the group,” he said. “I think that’s a big reason we played so much better last spring. We had built relationships with our student-athletes all fall and the work we had put in paid off late in the year.”
As well as freshman honors, Jacobs and Behn Heyns were named to the All-Conference First Team. Jacobs, who won the conference individual title, ranked second in the conference in scoring average at 72.17. Heyns played in all 11 tournaments last year and recorded a 73.13 scoring average. He finished fourth at the conference championship.
Last year’s squad played four events in the fall, finishing outside the top 10 before turning it around in the spring with a fourth-place finish in Puerto Rico with a field that featured four teams nationally ranked including No. 2 Auburn. Heyns finished tied for eighth in the event to lead the Jaguars.
They followed the strong showing with a third-place finish at the Sea Palms Invitational where Heyns (T5) and Jacobs (T18) paced the team’s finish. The Jaguars finished their regular season with a strong showing against one of the strongest fields they competed against all season in the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational. Eight of the 15 teams in the field reached the postseason.
This year’s squad returns Jacobs and Heyns, senior Dawson Booth, sophomores Ian Pienaar and Dean Wilken, freshmen Chapman Barnett, Dalton Burts, Mason Fundingsland and Josh Koekomoer, as well as transfers Cole Stevens and Ryan van der Klis.
Stevens is transferring from Point University, where he was a three-time All-American, and Van der Klis will spend his last season of eligibility with the Jags after transferring from the University of Memphis. He won the Purdue Fall Invitational title playing as an individual.
Now that he has a year under his belt, Paine feels the Jaguars are equipped to succeed and make another run at the NCAA championships.
“We now have our own recruits in place and just a much better all-round understanding of what works for us here at AU. I think that will show in our results, and we look forward to improving our rank each semester. One of our team sayings is to grow 1% each day.
“Making the NCAAs is a program goal each year, as well as winning the Southland Conference Championship,” Paine added. “Our goal for the year is to receive an at-large bid for postseason and not to have to rely on punching our ticket through the conference.”
The Jaguars kicked off the fall season at the Marquette Intercollegiate in Erin, Wisconsin, followed by the JT Poston Invitational in North Carolina, the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate and Pinetree Intercollegiate in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Kennesaw, Georgia, respectively, before wrapping the semester at the Kapolei Invitational in Oahu, Hawaii.
They finished seventh in Wisconsin with Jacobs and Stevens leading the way. Jacobs shot 69-75-72-217 to finish tied for eighth individually while Stevens secured a top 20 finish (16th) after carding 73-73-74-220.
Paine said their competitive schedule provides ample opportunities to play on different courses in different conditions. This helps players be better prepared for potential postseason play while also providing them with plenty of student-athlete and life experiences along the way.
“The students want to play against the best competition, and with us being Augusta, just the name of our program and the home tournament we host, we have some great opportunities to go play some really good tournaments throughout the year,” Paine said. “With golf, you play on different grasses, conditions, climates, and we’ve got to give them the feel for everything, because your goal at the end is to prepare them for the NCAA postseason.
“Nationals are out of California this year and you can be shipped anywhere for the regional, so we want the guys to be ready and prepared for everything.”