Tuesday, January 25, 2022

MSU men’s golf led to victory by James Piot, Troy Taylor in season opener 

September 10, 2021
<p>James Piot tees off at the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Course in Scottsdale, Arizona. - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics </p>

James Piot tees off at the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Course in Scottsdale, Arizona. - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics

MSU men’s golf led to victory by James Piot, Troy Taylor in season opener 

Fifth-year senior and reigning U.S. Amateur champion James Piot was two-over-par when faced with a decision. 

Hole eight, par-4. It was 298 yards uphill from the white tees — drive to the right for the pin or play it safe to the left. Watch out for the wind. 

Michigan State already had a chokehold on the tournament. Barring a complete and utter collapse, they’d come back to East Lansing with at least one trophy. 

Piot called his play. Birdie on eight. 

“Kind of knew in the back of my head, if I just stick to it, good swings were coming,” Piot said. “I hit a lot of decent shots, not a lot of great shots, so it was good enough to shoot one-under on the back and tie for the lead.”

Maybe they weren’t great shots, but good enough to dominate. 

Michigan State men’s golf won the Island Resort Intercollegiate on Monday, Sept. 6, compiling a commanding team score of 15-under-par. Held at Sage Run Golf Course in Harris, MI, the team got the most out of its experience and talent to crush the 10-team field by 23 strokes in their first tournament of the fall.

Piot (70-68-71) and redshirt senior Troy Taylor II (69-70-70) both shot 7-under-par to tie for first place. 

Michigan State Head Coach Casey Lubahn credited Sunday’s hot start and the resilient play of his seniors for putting his team in a position to succeed. 

“First nine holes, we’re 10-under-par and we’re kind of off to the races,” Lubahn said. “It’s a great sign of leadership, culture and what the boys did this summer. ... When your older guys lead and they handle adversity … it just sets the example for everybody else underneath them.” 

Sophomore Austin Meekhof (72-70-75) carded a 1-over-par to finish sixth overall, junior Bradley Smithson (71-73-74) tied for seventh at 2-over-par and freshman Ashton McCullough (68-74-77) tied for 10th in his first tournament for MSU with a score of 3-over-par. Freshman Satchel Pierce (78-90-78) competed outside the field as an individual, scoring 30-over-par in his first appearance for MSU. 

“The team is incredibly strong,” Lubahn said. “Anytime you finish top 10  in college golf, you’re playing good golf. To have five guys do that — I can firmly say that’s the first time in my career that’s happened.” 

Sage Run, a par 72 course, maintains a prairie links aesthetic with some challenging uphill and downhill holes built around a ridge near the middle of the course. Lubahn described the course as “challenging, firm, fast” while Piot, the 2019 Island Resort 

Intercollegiate champion, noted some of the distinct features of the links. 

“It’s a unique course,” Piot said. “It’s pretty much tree lines and there’s a lot of fescue out there so as long as you hit the ball decently straight, you got a good chance of scoring.” 

And the Spartans did score — tournament-highs of 60 birdies and four eagles through three rounds. Even with moving pins, growing winds and the Spartans getting “knocked around a little bit,” Lubahn said his team fought through and capitalized on scoring chances at a particular par. 

“There were some holes we probably didn’t play as well, but the key was we were 28-under-par on the par-5s,” Lubahn said. “When you dominate the par-5s like that, it really sets you up to score well and it’s something we’ve been talking about for years.” 

Piot had some early difficulties on Monday —starting two-over-par through seven holes— but dialed in to grab birdies on holes eight, nine and 12 to finish 1-under-par and tie for the lead and medalist honors. 

Lubahn said Piot could have let the tournament be a letdown after his thrilling U.S. Amateur win on Aug. 15. 

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His performance on the final nine at Sage Run showed anything but that. 

“The kid just was tough,” Lubahn said. “He just decided that he wasn’t gonna let it down and found a way to win another golf tournament.” 

Monday marked a major breakthrough for Taylor as he earned the first individual title of his career at MSU. Piot said it’s the start of something special for a Spartan team looming to make their mark this fall. 

“Troy’s always been that guy who’s been knocking on the door and on the verge of something great,” Piot said. “To finally see him get it done, it’s awesome because I know there’s gonna be plenty more wins in his future if keeps playing the way he does.” 

Even as scores generally went up throughout the weekend, Taylor was the model of consistency, never carding a score higher than 70. He attributed this to a recent focus on trying to enjoy the round while accepting any challenges that came his way.

Taylor faced a dire challenge with two bogeys to start Monday’s round, but collected four birdies on the front nine and never looked back on the way to the first individual honors of his career. Like Piot, he said he didn’t overcomplicate things and found the right times to shave strokes or go for a par. 

“My game plan was just trying to keep it in play on the fairway just to give myself an approach shot in so I can try to attack the holes and get myself as many birdie chances as possible,” Taylor said. “When I hit a couple offline, I did a really good job of scrambling this week and making some key up-and-downs to keep my round going.” 

Lubahn said competing in and winning the Island Resort Intercollegiate had one particularly special element to it as it served as a bit of a homecoming for Associate Head Coach Dan Ellis, a native of Negaunee, MI. Taylor added the team was excited for the opportunity to start the season with a win in the only tournament the team will play in Michigan this fall. 

“The fact that we could get it done in Michigan, kind of a home tournament for us, that was awesome,” Taylor said. “Just putting a good foot forward going into the season, just kind of showing ourselves we’re as good as we think we can be.” 

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