PULLMAN, Wash. -- The Ball State men’s golf team has arrived in the state of Washington for this week’s NCAA Regional at Palouse Ridge Golf Club.
The Cardinals touched down in Spokane, Wash., on Tuesday afternoon and immediately went to work with a practice session at Qualchan Golf Course. They will see Palouse Ridge in Pullman for the first time with a practice round on Wednesday as they prepare for the program’s first regional appearance in 22 years.
For the seniors, the regional is the fruit of four years of hard work. For Merkel, an individual NCAA participant last year, it’s the chance to experience a regional the way he really wants to experience it, with his team. For Clouser, a mid-year transfer from Michigan State, it’s an exciting opportunity to compete in the postseason with his new program.
Those five will tee it up Thursday morning in the first round for coach Mike Fleck’s Cardinals. Ball State, seeded 10th, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee Thursday at 9:15 a.m. PT (12:15 p.m. ET), playing with No. 11 seed Memphis and No. 12 seed Pacific. The 54-hole tournament continues with the second round Friday and the final round Saturday.
Ball State received an at-large berth into the field and is one of 81 teams still standing in Division I men’s golf, 14 of which are in Pullman this week. There are six regional sites across the country, and the top five teams from each will advance to the NCAA Championships later this month in Atlanta.
The field at Palouse Ridge is a talented one, headlined by unanimous national No. 1 California, which has already matched the unofficial NCAA record with 10 tournament titles this season. Highly ranked teams from TCU, Southern California, Saint Mary’s (Calif.) and Virginia Tech are also in the field.
Ball State itself was ranked among the top 30 in the country earlier this season and knows a top-5 finish, and the accompanying trip to Atlanta, is not out of reach.
Here is a closer look inside Ball State’s regional appearance and the Cardinals’ season to this point …
The Teams (Seed in parentheses): (1) California, (2) TCU, (3) Southern California, (4) Saint Mary’s (Calif.), (5) Virginia Tech, (6) BYU, (7) North Texas, (8) Baylor, (9) San Diego State, (10) Ball State, (11) Memphis, (12) Pacific, (13) Princeton, (14) Saint Francis (Pa.)
The Individuals: (1) Ryan Williams, Sacramento State, (2) Tyler Raber, UC Davis, (3) Mason Casper, Utah Valley, (4) Taeksoo Kim, Boise State and (5) Jordan Weir, Sacramento State.
The Course: Palouse Ridge Golf Club, Pullman, Wash. (par 72, 7,308 yards)
The Format: 18 holes each day, Thursday through Saturday. Ball State tees off at 9:15 a.m. PT (12:15 p.m. ET) in Thursday’s first round. Live scoring is available at golfstat.com.
Ball State Making First NCAA Appearance Since 1991
• The Cardinals will be competing in the NCAA tournament as a team for the 14th time in program history (12 at the University Division/Division I level) but the first time in 22 years.
• Ball State’s most recent appearance came at the 1991 NCAA Regional in Bartlesville, Okla.
A Quick Look at the Cardinals
• Ball State enters the regional ranked No. 61 nationally in both the Golfstat and Golfweek rankings. The Cardinals reached a high ranking of No. 27 at the end of the fall season.
• Ball State is coming off a third-place finish at the Mid-American Conference Championships.
• In nine team events this year, Ball State has two tournament wins, the Firestone Invitational and the Golf Pride Pinehurst Intercollegiate, and a pair of runner-up finishes, the Pinetree Intercollegiate and the Mid-American Match Play.
Recapping the MAC Championships
• Ball State placed third at the Mid-American Conference Championships at Longaberger Golf Club in Nashport, Ohio.
• The Cardinals, which held a share of second place at the halfway point of the 72-hole event, finished behind Kent State, which won its fifth straight league title, and Toledo.
• Tyler Merkel, who earned all-tournament honors, placed fourth to lead Ball State individually with a four-round total of 3-over par. It was the second top-10 performance at the MAC Championships for Merkel, who tied for seventh two years ago as a freshman.
• Alex Stinson tied for 11th at this year’s event and Tony Lazzara tied for 14th to give the Cardinals three among the top 15.
Highly Decorated by MAC
• Ball State had three players selected to the All-Mid-American Conference teams. Junior Tyler Merkel was named to the five-man first team, while seniors Joe Gasser and Alex Stinson were recognized on the six-man second team.
• The only team with more selections was MAC champion Kent State with four. The Cardinals and Golden Flashes combined for seven of the 11 all-conference picks.
• The three selections were the most for Ball State since the Cardinals had a school-record four all-conference golfers in 1982 (Dean Prange, Brian Tennyson, Kirk Schooley and B.G. Winings).
Ball State vs. the Field
• Ball State has only seen two of the teams in the Pullman Regional field at previous tournaments this season. Those teams are No. 4 seed St. Mary’s and No. 11 seed Memphis.
• The Cardinals saw Saint Mary’s twice and played the Gaels evenly. Saint Mary’s topped Ball State by 13 strokes in the season-opening Northern Intercollegiate, but the Cardinals later bested the Gaels by 13 strokes on their way to winning the Firestone Invitational.
• Ball State played with Memphis earlier this spring at the Memphis Intercollegiate, where the Tigers topped the Cardinals by 16 strokes in cold, windy conditions.
Merkel Returns to Regional
• Ball State junior Tyler Merkel is back in an NCAA Regional, and this time he has his team with him.
• Merkel was selected to compete as an individual in last year’s NCAA Central Regional at the University of Michigan Golf Course in Ann Arbor, Mich. He tied for 49th place.
• Merkel’s appearance marked the second straight year the Cardinals had an NCAA Regional individual participant.
• Ball State’s Eric Steger competed in the 2011 Central Regional at Wolf Run Golf Course in Zionsville, Ind. He also tied for 49th.
Winning at Famous Locations
• Ball State posted its wins this year at two of the most well-known facilities in the country.
• The Cardinals’ first victory of the year came in October at the Firestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club (North Course) in Akron, Ohio. Ball State ran away from the field with a final-round 282 on its way to a 13-stroke victory at 7-under par.
• The second win came at the Pinehurst Intercollegiate in Pinehurst Village, N.C. The event was spread over Pinehurst’s No. 2 course, host to major championships, and its No. 6 course.
• All five golfers in the Cardinals’ regional lineup are from the state of Indiana, including four from within a one-hour radius of Ball State’s campus.
• Joe Gasser is from Yorktown, Ind., a Muncie suburb, while Alex Stinson (Anderson, Ind.), McCormick Clouser (Bluffton, Ind.) and Tony Lazzara (Carmel, Ind.) are also from near Muncie.
• The golfer farthest from home in the Ball State lineup is Tyler Merkel, who comes from Evansville, Ind., in the southwest corner of the state.
• Of the 11 golfers on the Cardinals’ full roster, nine come from within the Hoosier state.
• Ball State will take an experienced group to the Pullman Regional. The Cardinals’ lineup features three seniors, Joe Gasser, Tony Lazzara and Alex Stinson, and one junior, Tyler Merkel.
• That quartet has combined to play in 128 career stroke play events for Ball State (Gasser 38, Stinson 32, Merkel 30, Lazzara 28).
• The fifth golfer in the lineup is sophomore McCormick Clouser, a transfer who has played in 19 stroke-play events as a collegian between Michigan State (16) and Ball State (3).
Merkel’s Career Numbers
• Junior Tyler Merkel, who won the Pinehurst Intercollegiate and has placed in the top-5 in six tournaments this year, is already making his mark on the Ball State record book.
• He owns three career tournament titles to rank in a tie for ninth in program history.
• His 72.96 stroke average this season ranks fourth in program history, while his 73.53 average over his first three years is on pace for the Ball State career record
Ball State in the NCAA Tournament
• Ball State is making its 14th all-time NCAA tournament appearance. That total includes two appearances as a member of the college division in 1967 and 1968.
• The Cardinals have competed in the NCAAs one time (1991) since the regional format was implemented.
• Each of the previous appearances came at the NCAA finals when there was no regional round.
• Ball State appeared in eight NCAA tournaments in a 16-year stretch from 1971-86 under former coach Earl Yestingsmeier, including five straight appearances from 1971-75.
Ball State Individuals in the NCAAs
• The Cardinals have also had numerous players reach the NCAA tournament as individuals, most recently Tyler Merkel last season.
• A total of 12 Cardinals have competed in the NCAA Championship as individuals.
• Four Ball State golfers have earned NCAA spots since the implementation of regionals with two of them, Darrett Brinker (1993) and Jamie Broce (1999), advancing out of the regional.
The Last Time
• Ball State’s most recent NCAA appearance as a team came in the 1991 Central Regional at Bartlesville, Okla.
• The Cardinals, coached by Earl Yestingsmeier, finished 17th out of 21 teams at the event with a three-round total of 903.
• Ball State’s lineup for the regional featured Tim Frazier, Andy Johnson, Kyle Marsh, Jeff Schumaker and Darrett Brinker.
• Current Ball State head coach Mike Fleck was a member of that year’s team but did not compete at the regional.