LAWRENCE — Will King didn’t let his focus shift until his last round at the NCAA regional was nearly over.
King, a freshman with Kansas men’s golf, had gone into the event last week in Norman, Oklahoma, thinking about how he could help his team advance to the national championship. As the three rounds progressed, he thought about getting the best score possible for his team. But then came those last couple holes on the final day, and the realization the Jayhawks weren’t going to be able to advance together.
So, King started to think about how he’d be able to advance. When he had to battle it out in a playoff, to be the top individual in the field who wasn’t on a team that was advancing, he focused on himself, too. And after eight holes of playoff golf he was able to beat a more experienced player from Ole Miss and earn a spot at the NCAA championship event, which is set to run May 26-31 at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
RELATED: Kevin McCullar Jr. is returning to Kansas for another season of college basketball
RELATED: Rock Chalk Roundball Classic will celebrate 15 years of aiding families in need this year
“It’s pretty cool,” King said. “I, obviously, played pretty good at regionals — which is pretty good timing for that to come. It feels great to get there my first year. Yeah, man, I’m just looking forward to getting down there and kind of playing with nothing to lose.”
King, who enjoys those one-on-one situations, acknowledged that the playoff sort of felt like it was dragging on after the first four holes. He remembered thinking, “OK, let’s try to get this thing over with.” But, reflecting on it, he said that probably had something to do with the fact they’d played so much already.
Kansas coach Jamie Bermel said he’d never seen a playoff last that long, but always thought King could advance through it because he feels anything can happen in a playoff. King, from Bermel’s perspective, was also playing with a level of confidence that came from stringing together three-straight birdies to start his first round. King has been a steady and unflappable presence, Bermel said, since he led the Jayhawks in scoring at their first event of the season back in September.
That poise should help King in his first chance at a NCAA championship, just as the experience he and his coaches have at the course where the event will be played. Bermel said King played it in April when they were out there for a separate event. And both Bermel and associate head coach Chris Wilson have been there other times as well.
“The condition he played it in in April — probably won’t be the same,” Bermel said. “But I don’t think he’s the same player he was in April, either. So, a whole different Will King, that’s for sure.”
King added that the confidence he plays with also comes from his teammates, and how they were able to help him find his footing in college golf. That group included juniors Cecil Belisle, William Duquette and Gunnar Broin. That group included junior Davis Cooper and redshirt junior Zach Sokolosky.
King doesn’t know if he’s going to have the opportunity to play for a NCAA championship again. He’s going to try to play freely, as he did at the regional. He’s going to try to make the most of it.
“As far as amateur golf goes, it’s pretty much as competitive as you’re going to find,” King said. “So, yeah, I mean it’s obviously a very prestigious, well-run event that I’m excited, that I’m honored, to play in. … If I play good, I mean, who knows where it can take me? But, I mean, I’m really just trying to focus on kind of controlling what I can control.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. He is the National Sports Media Association’s sportswriter of the year for the state of Kansas for 2022. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: KU men’s golf freshman Will King is eager to play for NCAA title