UW-Superior men's golf

UW-Superior won the 2018 UMAC men's golf championship

For the first two years of the UW-Superior men's golf revival, a hockey player named Anton Svensson was the face of the Yellowjackets program.

The dual-sport athlete from Sweden led the team in scoring average both years following the restoration of men's golf after a 28-year absence in 2015, a move coinciding with Superior's move from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. Svensson, who led the Yellowjackets hockey team in goals scored his final two seasons, was also  the first golfer in Superior golf's modern era to break 70 when he shot 69 to win a one-day event in 2017 at Pioneer Creek in Maple Plain, Minn.

"Anton is now playing pro hockey in Sweden, but he was an extremely talented golfer," Superior golf coach Paul Eberhardt said. "If he wanted to, he could have (worked) his way onto one of the European tours; he was that talented. He could crush the ball off the tee. If he would've grinded on his short game a little bit, he could have been a really, really special golfer."

As it was, Svensson played a special role in Superior's efforts to get its men's golf program back off the ground. In his two seasons, the Yellowjackets saw their team scoring average drop from a 328.69 to a 321.35 as they began the journey to this week's milestone moment — just four years removed from a nearly three-decade hiatus — when they compete in the NCAA Division III Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Superior, which no longer has any multi-sport athletes on its roster, earned UMAC's automatic NCAA berth last fall when it outlasted Northwestern (Minn.) in a one-hole playoff at the conference championship for the team title. It will be the first NCAA appearance for the Yellowjackets.

"For the most part, we're excited and maybe a little bit nervous," Eberhardt said of Superior's first venture into the national spotlight. "It's our first opportunity to see some of the big dogs in college golf and see where we need to get to to compete at a high level."

On paper, Superior is not expected to be among the 18 teams that make the cut after the first 36 holes Monday and Tuesday when the 42 teams in the field 18 holes at Champion Trace and 18 holes at Keene Run. Of the 287 Division III men's programs ranked by GolfStat.com this season, Superior is No. 139 despite a tough spring in which Wisconsin's extended winter has made it challenging for the Yellowjackets to regain their form of last fall.

In fact, just last week Eberhardt — a social studies teacher at Northwestern High School in Maple — dealt with another round of snowfall on his way to school. 

"When I went to Superior (Thursday) night, there was no snow," Eberhardt said. "But we got 8 to 10 inches (in Maple) and it was an adventure. We had a two-hour delay at the high school. Power was out for part of the day. It was a crazy day (Thursday)."

Such is life in northern Wisconsin. And such is life at a Division III school, where coaches make the most of the resources they have.

Eberhardt, who coached men's basketball at UW-Superior through the 2016-17 season, took over the men's golf program during the second semester of its first season in 2016. Last fall, the Wonewoc native added the women's golf program to his coaching duties.

One of his first steps as men's coach in dealing with Wisconsin's unpredictable spring weather was to schedule warm-weather getaways over spring break. In 2017, the Yellowjackets went to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama and this spring they worked off the rust in the Phoenix area.

Even so, the stop-and-start nature of the spring season since the team returned north could hamper Superior at the NCAA Championship.

"Our outdoor season this spring has been miserable," Eberhardt said. "We're still trying to work off some rust. Are we at a disadvantage compared to some of the southern schools? I don't think there is a doubt that we are.

"I think we are fortunate that our conference tournament is in the fall and we have an opportunity to play really good golf in the fall because our guys have been playing all summer and they're prepped and they are polished."

And his five-player lineup of Joey Cummings (76.76 average), Ryan Peterson (77.30), Ollie Sedelius (77.95), Tyler Smith (81.28) and Chase Hoople (84.40) has the potential to play well enough to challenge the cutline at the NCAA Championship. They have broken 300 twice and, at the UMAC Championship, bettered 310 twice over the three-day event.

"I have no idea what to expect when we get down to Kentucky," Eberhardt said. "Our guys are going to go down there, compete and try and play as well as they can. We'll roll the dice and see what happens. ... Do I expect that we're going to go down and win the national championship? No, we're not at that level yet. But we're making strides and we've gotten better. We can go down there and be relatively competitive.

"I don't think we're going to go down there and embarrass ourselves and shoot 150 shots more than the (last) team that makes the cut. That's not where we're at. I think we're competitive enough that we can throw five guys out there who are going to play good and solid golf."

rob@killarneygolfmedia.com

Rob started covering the Wisconsin golf scene in 1987 at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison & has been the only reporter covering all levels of state golf. He joined Killarney Golf Media in Sept. 2015 & helped launch Wisconsin.Golf in Jan. 2016.