By Megan Wilson
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Individually, they are the three top golfers on the Kansas State men's golf team. Collectively, they are the backbone of the team and the driving force that powered the squad to two wins in the fall portion of the season.
Robert Streb, Mitchell Gregson and Joe Ida are all good golfers. But they are also more than that. They are teammates and friends who each have something special and valuable to offer to the team beyond their skills on the course.
“All three have a little different personality,” said Head Coach Tim Norris. “Robert’s pretty serious most of the time. He’s pretty low key and laid back. Joe’s kind of the jokester. He’s got lines from movies that he recites. Mitch is in his element right now because he’s a huge college basketball fan. It’s March Madness around our team right now. They’re all three pretty serious and competitive on the golf course, but off of it, they’re all different. That’s good because it’s not like they’re all cut from the same mold. It would probably be boring if they were.”
That’s not to say that their skills on the course don’t have an impact on the team. Due to their consistent contributions to the team’s success, Streb, Gregson and Ida have earned the collective nickname “The Big Three.” And it is as a group that they have led the Wildcats to early success in the fall and spring seasons.
“For our team, they’ve been the backbone of the team this year and really last year as well,” Norris said. “It helps that they’ve built up their resume and accomplished a lot and continue to improve.”
The Big Three never think of themselves as the heart and soul of the team. In their minds, their goal every time out is to do their best. They have noticed that when they perform well, the team does better, but insist that it’s not just because of them but rather a team effort. However, it is these three who have been the most consistent at producing solid performances, and they had to admit that there was a little pressure to continue that good work.
“I think maybe at first (there was some pressure),” Ida said. “I don’t know when this whole ‘us three’ thing got started, but I think there was, at first. But now, we’ve been here for a while now, Mitch and me have been here for three years and Bob’s a senior, and we’ve played tons of tournaments. Now we’re not too worried about it. We go out and play.”
They’ve learned that while they provide the consistent scoring the team needs, there is a team to support them. Having several additional strong golfers on the team has relieved some of the pressure of having to shoulder the scoring load.
“We know that if we have one or two bad rounds, that our four, five, or six guys are more than capable of stepping up and taking our places if we have a bad round,” Gregson said. “We’re a pretty good team top to bottom and we feel pretty strong about all of our players.”
Gregson led the Wildcats in stroke average during the fall and won the Jim Colbert Intercollegiate, becoming the first Wildcat to win the tournament since Ben Kern in 2006, and earned Big 12 Golfer of the Month honors in October. Streb was second on the team in stroke average and garnered three top-five finishes this fall en route to being named Big 12 Golfer of the Month in November. Add Ida’s trademark consistency to the mix, and K-State seems to have found a recipe for success. The secret to that success, Norris says, is the short memories of his players.
“The biggest thing we face in golf is just trying to get better and not getting any worse,” he said. “It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to improve and it takes a lot of work just to stay where you are. What makes these guys so good is that they have a short memory as far as poor performances, such as bad holes or bad rounds or bad days. That’s why they’ve led our team and done so well. They’ve all missed shots along the way, but they get over it pretty fast because they know how important it is to the team that they don’t dwell on a mistake.”
The players set their goals high and are not afraid to think big when it comes to making plans for the end of the spring season, including a berth to the NCAA Championship in Toledo, Ohio.
“I honestly think we can go to Toledo,” Streb said. “The sky is the limit. I went by myself my freshman year and it’s no fun to go by yourself.”
Such a run would certainly go a long way toward helping K-State continue to build a strong and competitive golf program. With six conference schools in the top 50 of Golf Week’s national rankings, the goal for the Wildcats is to continue to improve. While they may not be renowned around the country or even across the campus yet, K-State’s Big Three continue to keep pushing.
“In spite of our program maybe not having a great history, there’s been some good players come through here,” Ida said. “The University and us (the team) are still pretty serious about it and we expect to succeed. They expect us to be competitive.”
Coach Norris agrees, pointing to Streb, Gregson and Ida as examples of the kinds of players it takes to build a program.
“We’re trying to build a tradition here. Our goal is to have more players go on to play on the PGA tour,” stated Norris. “We want them to get their degree and their education, but we also want them to be able to scrape out a living playing professional golf. Golf is a game for dreamers and we’re trying to attract some kids who dream big and will help us build our tradition.”
While K-State’s Big Three are certainly the backbone of this year’s team, with any luck, they’ll also be the backbone of something bigger for the Wildcat men’s golf program.