By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Golfers with a low scoring average are attractive to every college program. But what about those who seem to have the shots and just can’t put it all together?
Or the ones that have the big drive but can’t seem to keep it on the fairway? At UNO, Head Coach Tim Nelson prefers to find a player who understands the game.
“It’s still the basics but what we work on more than anything is how to play the game,” Nelson said. “These kids come in and don’t know how to play golf.”
“They know how to swing a golf club, and they can hit it. Even the girls are hitting it out of sight. But the guys coming in, and the girls, they don’t understand some of the intricacies of how to play.”
In 2012/13 Nelson will be leading UNO golf in his tenth season at the helm. In the first eight Nelson headed just the women’s program. When the university added men’s golf in 2011, Nelson took on those responsibilities as well.
In his eight years as the women’s coach, Nelson led five teams to conference championships, including three straight MIAA titles. UNO was in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association for just three years and won the conference title all three years of membership.
In the final year of membership, Dani Suponchick was awarded the MIAA Player of the Year, and Nelson had three others chosen to the All-Tournament team. Maverick women’s golf qualified for the NCAA championship in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
“We’re just constantly building and hopefully learning all the time,” Nelson said about his current teams. “Every match is something you learn by.”
“I guess the easiest thing [to say that we look for] is to develop a stronger player through each tournament. Learning from your mistakes and correcting them and finding different drills for them to improve.”
Nelson considers things such as where to hit the ball, the best place to come into it and what type of shot to hit as what it takes to understand how to play the game. Often times players get too technical and get overly worried about position.
“We’re trying to get them to the idea of how you get the ball in the hole,” Nelson said. “Where do we really want it to go, where’s your target?
“We want them to plan how to play a hole. The guys who try to overpower it, we try to teach them more of the position. Do you need to hit a driver every time? No.”
Since golf is more of an individual sport, many of the players Nelson accepts into the program have their own coaches or swing instructors. Nelson said that he and his coaching staff don’t do too much work on the swing.
They may fine tune it but they teach according to what the players are learning from their personal coaches. But in an individual sport, ego often also becomes part of the equation.
“Some of the younger guys, especially, come in [and think] ‘you can’t teach me anything, I know it all,’ and that’s developed because it’s an individual sport.”
“That’s where we try to teach them where to place it. Sometimes you have to hit it at the pin on the green, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have to hit the middle, and those are the things you really try to teach them.”
Over the summer Nelson challenged his players to learn two new shots they didn’t know how to hit. Near the green, a lot of his players prefer to hit a lob wedge or a sand wedge to a pin placement.
But Nelson says that part of knowing how to play the game means understanding that in those situations hitting the ball on the ground is sometimes a wiser decision.
“Let’s get it on the ground because there’s a lot of balls you want rolling as fast you can,” Nelson said. “Sometimes you want to hit it high and soft. Trying to teach them that there isn’t just one way, there’s multiple ways. It’s having a lot of tools in their toolbox.”
A lot of Nelson’s teaching goes into the short game. At a typical practice his players will do 70 to 75 percent of their drills in chipping and putting.
The rest of the time they’ll let the players bust out the driver and the longer clubs. Nelson works with his players on accuracy and distance control. At the start of practice he gives them a sheet of drills to do then observes and makes some corrections.
When he looks for a player to join the UNO program he looks for several things. Where are they currently, do they have a golf swing he and his staff can work with, are they balanced, do they have some strength?
“You’re looking at the thing between the ears and if they can play smartly,” Nelson said. “Those are the things right there. And obviously we’re gonna look at score.”
Nelson says some of the most important things are mannerisms on the golf course. That is, do they remember a bad shot and lose their composure, or can they get rid of it in a hurry?
But when it comes to skill level, would Nelson rather have a player who’s consistent on the fairway or one that has a big shot off the tee?
“My personal belief is that if he or she can hit it a long ways, I can teach him to hit it straighter.”