By Randy York, The N-Sider
The best thing about collegiate athletics is the opportunity to work relentlessly, develop distinctively and find unique ways to crawl out of relative obscurity. Michael Colgate, a senior golfer and Accounting major from Sarasota, Fla., fits that description to an absolute tee.
Colgate (above) flirted with national prominence three years ago as a member of the University of Nebraska-Kearney golf team, shooting a 66 to tie two others for the first-round lead in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Tournament in Newton, Kan.
“It was a great field because the winner gets to go to the Masters and play at Augusta,” Colgate told me. “It was pretty cool to see your name in the headlines the next day in the golf section of ESPN.com. I don’t know if I will ever be on ESPN again in my life, but it was nice to get on that national stage, even if it was just for one day.”
The built-in beauty for Colgate following that experience was transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, enabling him to compete against the nation’s best collegiate golfers. Let the record show that Colgate’s strong family ties to Nebraska on both sides of his family has paid off and positioned him to finish his career as one of the Huskers’ best-ever male golfers.
How and why can that be true?
“Mike’s overall average through last fall and this spring is 71.5,” Nebraska Men’s Coach Bill Spangler said. “It was just over 70 for the spring and 71.8 in the fall. That is darn good, especially when we play in crappy conditions. Even though we travel a lot, the conditions can be brutal.”
In February, the Husker men’s team competed in Palm Coast, Fla., and Palm Desert, Calif. The Huskers played in Laredo, Texas, in March and resume competition this weekend at the Hawkeye Invitational, in Iowa City, followed by an intercollegiate tournament at Ohio State weekend and the Big Ten Championships at the Baltimore Country Club April 28-30.
If the Huskers don’t qualify to compete in the NCAA Tournament, Spangler says Colgate still has “a good chance” to compete individually in postseason play.
Jace Gutherman Also a Good Leader, Player, Ambassador for Nebraska Golf
Jace Guthmiller (above) is a sophomore Finance major from Yankton, S.D. “Jace isn’t far behind Mike,” Spangler said. “Both are good players and good ambassadors for recruiting prospects, and we’ll see the result. If the team does not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, Mike has a good shot at playing post-season, and Jace isn’t far behind. He has a great finish. We play against a lot of good players, and if he beats those players, he’s going to put himself in a good position as well.”
In his 16th season as Nebraska’s head golf coach, Spangler embraces the opportunity for Nebraska’s improving roster to set new standards and benchmarks. “With the exception of Mike, most of these guys are coming back,” Spangler said. “Mike will be a big loss, but the foundation is there with guys like Jace, Sean Song, Jackson Wendling and Tanner Owen.”
Competing with and against Colgate and Guthmiller, “all of these kids see what they’ve done, and it definitely fuels their fire,” Spangler said. “They put so much into it. You want your leaders to be role models and set the tone for whatever it takes to improve.”
For the first time, the Nebraska men’s golf team did not compete in a tournament during Spring Break, so the players and coaches “set up shop so to speak” and “played a bunch of golf” over their five-day span in Phoenix.
“It worked out well,” Spangler said. “We left on Friday night after classes and came back to Lincoln on Thursday morning. We played five straight days. They were tired.”
Since everyone has high expectations, “We don’t micromanage their practice sessions,” Spangler said. “They all know what they need to work on, and they all have strengths and weaknesses that are different from each other. We are always there if they need us, but we do not force anything down their throats.”
Like a Snowball, Golf Gathers Itself, Gets More Steam, Generates Excitement
Spangler (above) knows there is no tried and true method in golf. “I have talked to lots of coaches, including Judd Cornell, my assistant,” Spangler said. “There is no one correct way. Each place is different and each school has different facilities and climates. You get a feel for what works at the time and then you adjust accordingly. We adjust every year. This team has a strong mindset. We are not there yet, but we are obviously getting closer. That feeds upon itself. The snowball gathers upon itself, gets more steam and makes them more excited.”
The Huskers’ energy, chemistry and camaraderie were “off the charts on spring break,” Spangler said. “It literally builds strength with the team dynamic. We competed out there. We kept a five-round total, and man, it was competitive. They were not just hanging out there and playing for fun. They were competing, and it was great.”
The Huskers are measuring more rounds under par as a team and more rounds under par individually. “It’s been great,” Spangler said. “Each guy has shot one or more rounds under par in a tournament with one exception. The stroke averages between NU’s top two guys is the best we’ve had in years. Obviously, Mike is shattering all school records. Nine of his last 20 rounds were under par.”
Spangler says Colgate knows his strengths and weaknesses, knows what works best for him and never deviates from his standards. “He has a plan, and it’s organized,” Spangler said. “He does a lot of the same stuff every day in terms of preparation. He just keeps working and working and working. Mike’s out there the most and working the hardest. It’s not any secret. He has high standards for himself. I mean, he could hit a great shot, but still get ticked off because he pulled it 15 feet. He has very high standards. In this game, it’s not how good your good shots are. It’s how good your bad shots are. His bad ones are rarely very bad.”
Colgate’s dad coached with Mark Manning at UNO. “Mike’s fixed to have a little competitive mindset right there,” Spangler said. “You know how crazy wrestlers are. There’s that competitive blood there. I think Mike would be the first to tell you that. He wants to elevate his game and elevate the competition and demands of being a good golfer.”
Last fall, when the Huskers tied the team record with 12 strokes under par at Wisconsin, Spangler knew the expectations were getting greater.
“We still have a lot of unfinished product, but it’s great to see how we compete,” he said.
Growth and Improvement Anatomy: Dad Taught Fundamentals to Hone Skills
Colgate (with teammates above) shifted his focus from baseball to golf at the tender age of 10. “My dad was a huge part of why I started the game,” Mike said. “He taught me a lot of things starting out, and I just fell in love with the game of golf. During the summers before 9th grade, golf was all I did. I practiced and honed my skills. I would keep getting a little bit better day-by-day. I had a couple good breaks before my senior year that was before playing in the junior state amateur.”
Colegate spent two years at Kearney and then transferred before his junior season. “It’s been a good run so far, but my nature is kind of move from place to place,” he said. “I haven’t lived in the same house more than three or four years in my life. So that’s just kind of my instincts. I talked to the coach there and asked permission to talk to other programs and fortunately, Nebraska was interested. Coach Spangler gave me a call a couple of days later after that. I knew a couple of guys on the team, and they were vouching for me, fortunately. The next thing I knew I was committing to Nebraska. I really wanted to come to Nebraska out of high school, but it just wasn’t the right size or the right fit. It wasn’t where I needed to be to help build the program. Fortunately, I honed my skills and improved myself, That made it even sweeter when I came here.”
Keep the ball in play is Colgate’s mantra. “Once you hit the ball in hazard or out of bounds, you cost your team a stroke or two and that’s the last thing you want to do,” he said. “Eventually, I found a way to keep the ball in play no matter where I lay. Golf is different from course to course. But the middle of the fairway here is just like the middle of the fairway down in Texas or Colorado. It’s the same everywhere. The greens and the cups are the same size. You just have to get it through your head that the first tee shot at Wilderness Ridge is pretty much the exact same thing as any course anywhere.”
Colgate Developed His Hitting, Lowered Score Through Short Game, Putting
Once you solve that mental issue, “you hit your line, figure out your ball flight and that’s what I think I finally got through my head,” Colgate said. “I found a swing that allowed me to do that and it’s been great these last couple years here. Getting under par is all about putting and your short game. Mine still needs a lot of work, but I am not missing those short putts like I used to and I am starting to put better rolls on ball, giving me better chances for birdies. It’s been a gradual process. Sometimes in golf, you get better but your scores don’t get better. Eventually, it’s just keeping your head to the grindstone and seeing s results.
In his career, Colgate has made three holes in one and still has the opportunity to finish his shortened Husker career with the lowest scoring average in the history of Nebraska men’s golf.
Mike Colgate is in that envious position because he’s made the most of his opportunity. “As soon as I got to college at Kearney, I was honestly free to do whatever,” he said. “I didn’t have any parents around and only family in Omaha and Chadron. I was on my own, so I had a choice. I could have a great time in college and party away or I could mix in a little fun sometimes and work very hard. I chose the work. Wilderness Ridge has the tools to make you a better golfer. The weather is not particularly great sometimes, but there is no doubt about it. You can and will get better if you work hard enough.”
Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's senior associate AD for Life Skills and the N Club, oversees golf for the Husker men's and women's teams. "Michael Colgate has thrived at Nebraska after two years at UNK," Zimmer said. "He is an 'Iron Man' of sorts, qualifiying to golf in every tournament during his Husker tenure. I was happy to see Michael win the Border Olympics Tournament in Laredo, Texas, earlier this spring. His passion, work-ethic, and focus make him one of the most talented golfers in the history of Nebraska Golf. He has a very bright future, and I’m looking forward to see him compete at the Big Ten Championships and beyond."
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