PHOTO: St. Thomas won the team title last September at the inaugural Pioneer Collegiate tournament.
The calendar says so. The 30-day weather forecast says so. And Coach Scott Proshek's last-minute to-do list says so.
The start of the 2019 fall golf season must be just days away.
It looks to be another interesting autumn for Proshek and his Tommie players.
St. Thomas has built one of Division III's top 25 programs over the last decade. The Purple tied for fifth place in the May 2015 NCAA Division III Championship tournament, then came back to finish 11th place and 15th place in the May 2018 and 2019 national meets. They will likely return to the Division III top-25 when the preseason poll comes out next week.
The Tommies also have recorded eight top-three MIAC team finishes over the last 10 years. That includes conference team crowns in fall 2011, fall 2017 and fall 2018.
St. Thomas two-time All-America Emmet Herb is back for his senior season. Herb has posted the MIAC's lowest stroke average in each of the last two seasons, near 73.0 each school year. He has built a 73.8 career stroke average in 66 rounds, including 21 times scoring 72 or better in those first three seasons.
Two other returners also competed last May at the Toms' five-man national lineup: rising juniors Peder Larson and Miles McCarthy.
The Fun Begins
Proshek will greet his roster hopefuls on Monday Aug. 26. Reluctantly, he has to trim a half-dozen candidates who will be trying out over several days. Proshek hopes to settle on a 12-man roster by week's end, then tackle a fall schedule that will include seven tournaments in seven weeks.
The Toms open that busy fall slate with a two-day tournament with Gustavus on Aug. 29-30 in Bloomington and LeSueur.
The Oct. 5-7 MIAC Championship meet in Jordan, Minn., is especially important. The team winner gets the conference's automatic berth into the May 2020 national meet.
Proshek's Tommies received at-large team berths into nationals in 2013, 2015 and 2016, although that's a more nerve-wracking route to attempt. There's good parity at the top of the MIAC, and only one conference team generally lands an at-large spot to go with the one automatic qualifier.
St. Thomas will see several strong Division III teams at two elite meets in Florida: the Sept. 14-15 NCAA Preview meet in Palm Beach; and the Oct. 13-15 Golfweek Invite in San Destin.
The St. Thomas program had breakout tournaments in fall 2015 and fall 2017 when it placed first out of 18 top national teams at the Golfweek tournaments.
Toms Host Lively Meet Sept. 7-8
For the second year in a row, the Tommies will serve as the co-host of the Sept. 7-8 Pioneer Collegiate Invite. just 30 miles northwest of campus.
The 54-hole tourney, set for the Pioneer Creek course in Maple Plain, is held in conjunction with the Sept. 8-9 Minnesota Gopher Invite. That Division I competition is set for the Windsong Farm course across the street from the Pioneer Creek layout.
"It's the premiere Minnesota golf event of the fall college season, and we get to be part of that," Proshek said.
The Pioneer Collegiate will include May 2019 NCAA qualifiers St. Thomas and St. John's, four other MIAC teams, plus Luther and Manitoba.
A fun wrinkle to the Pioneer is that another 25-30 Division I players will compete as individuals in the Saturday-Sunday meet. Except for the host Gophers, teams in the Gopher Invite generally only enter five in their lineup, so their Nos. 6-7-8 players usually join their teammates on the road trip and compete in the Pioneer meet.
When you scan last year's inaugural Pioneer results, you see that 10 of the top 11 finishers were Division I players, followed by the Tommies' Herb and Texas' Christoffer Bring (the Longhorns' No. 8 player) tied for 12th.
Some of that talent was paired with Tommie golfers, too. The medalist was Michigan State's Devin Deogun, who was the Spartans' No. 6 player most of the year. He was followed in second place by Spencer Soosman of Texas, and in third place by Quade Cummins of Oklahoma.
Cummins later broke into the Sooners' top five. He tied for 12th at the NCAA Regional meet in Washington, and capped the school year with his inclusion on the Division I All-America team.
Soosman played in Texas' five-man lineup for the Big 12 meet last spring.
"It's really a good experience for our players to get to play against that elite competition," Proshek said. "The top player or two on some Division III teams are often good enough to contend for a 12-man roster spot on a lot Division I teams."
On the team side at the 2018 Pioneer, the Tommies rallied from an eight-stroke deficit on the final day and edged Gustavus by two shots for the victory.
With tryouts nearly upon us, and the 2019 Pioneer event just two weeks away, opportunity knocks for the Tommie players. Proshek has stocked up on the caffeine. We'll soon see if his guys can bring the juice.
Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is starting his 26th season at St. Thomas and 32nd overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.
If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org