Men’s golf is wrapping up their fourth tournament of the season, and junior James O’Brien is one of the driving forces behind the improvement of the team.
O’Brien has steadily improved during his career as a Griffon. But it all came into play during high school.
East Buchanan High School is where O’Brien got his start. During his career there, he was extremely successful. O’Brien was the Plattsburg Club Champion and he won the St. Joseph City-Wide Junior Championship. To go with both of those, he also finished in the Top 10 in the Kansas City Junior Tour.
O’Brien is a sports management major. He was on the MIAA Academic Honor Roll this past year with a 3.85 GPA. He hopes to one day be a PGA Teaching Professional.
His freshman year at Western was full of development. O’Brien played in 10 events and 22 rounds. His scoring average was 79.8, with his season low of 73 coming in the Missouri Intercollegiate. Of his 22 rounds, seven were in the 70s. He placed in the Top 20 twice, with his best coming at the Park University Fall Invite, where he finished in a tie for 15th with rounds of 74 and 79.
During his sophomore year, O’Brien continued to improve. O’Brien scored a low round of 74 twice, at the Lindenwood Invitational and the Pittsburg State Invitational. At both invites, he also scored a 151 to mark his best two-round total of the season. His stroke average was 77.4 on the season. O’Brien also placed ninth at the Missouri Intercollegiate with a score of 229 (79-78-72).
In the midst of his junior season, O’Brien’s totals are just as impressive.
“I would personally like to win a tournament this year,” O’Brien said. “As a team, I would like for us to finish high in the conference, make the tournament and, hopefully, move on to nationals.”
The team’s first tournament was the Missouri Intercollegiate in Osage Beach, MO. Western finished sixth in the tournament. O’Brien tied for 18th in the tournament with a 233 total (79-72-82).
After that, the team headed to Axtell, NE for the UNK Fall Invitational. After day one of the tournament, Western was seventh. O’Brien was sitting at 68th, with a total of 165 (74-91), so far. But he would make up lost ground, with what he believes to be his biggest accomplishment in his career. In day two, he would finish off with a 234 total, shooting a 69 (three under par) to help him move up to tie for 51st and seal the seventh place spot for Western.
The third tournament, the St. Cloud State Fall Invitational, Western finished 15th for day one. They would move up to 13th to finish the tournament.
However, O’Brien would kick it up a notch once again in the next tournament. The team was invited to Warrensburg, MO for the UCM Heart of America Invitational. After day one, Western would be in 14th place. O’Brien would be tied for 27th with fellow Griffon Scott Sheldon. Both would collect 148 after a 75-73 day. He would finish the tournament tied for 39th and end with a 226 total after shooting 78 in the third round.
When asked if he feels the lack of student support for golf is because they are always on the road, O’Brien had this to say.
“Yes, I agree that our constant being on the road makes it difficult for students to support us. Also, there is not a lot of coverage.”
Director of Athletics, Kurt McGuffin, took into perspective the players who practice and play off campus during the recent events that transpired among the golf teams.
The golf team recently had a switch in leadership. After 12 seasons at the helm of Western Men’s golf, Jim Perry stepped down in early July. With the Women’s golf coach, Cathy Habermehl, retiring just prior to that, McGuffin chose to hire one full-time coach for both teams, as opposed to two part-time coaches.
McGuffin hired Greg Dillon, the former head coach for Colorado State University-Pueblo Women’s golf.
“Coach Dillon is great! I like him a lot,” O’Brien said. “He’s a very knowledgable coach with a great attitude.”
McGuffin believes his choice will help the players feel more accepted among campus athletics at Western.
“The other part was, I wanted to make [golf] feel like they were a part of this athletic program. I think [golf], since they go off campus to practice, they’re never really around or a part of it,” McGuffin said. “I think with the coach having an office on campus and having the interaction day-to-day will help with that.”
The team heads back to St. Joseph for the final tournament of the fall season, when they play in the MWSU Drury Inn Central Region Invitational. The tournament is set for Monday, Oct. 14 and Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 8 a.m. at the St. Joseph Country Club.