Armstrong Atlantic State Men's Golf Rapidly Becoming Wolfe's Pack
Head coach Michael Butler approached his eighth season as head
coach of the Armstrong Atlantic State men's golf team with a little
bit of trepidation. With nine players leaving from last season's
squad that hosted the 2007 Atlantic/Southeast Regional and could
not advance out of the region into nationals, he knew that the
2007-08 season might contain some early season adversity.
Enter Chris Wolfe.
The only returning starter from last season's squad, Wolfe entered this season as the unquestioned No. 1 player for coach Butler and the Pirates. And all Wolfe has done is responded with two tournament titles in his first two events of the fall, sporting a 66.75 stroke average after the Kiawah Island Invitational in South Carolina and the Coker College Invitational in Florida.
"Chris accepted the challenge of being a strong leader for us this season," coach Butler said. "He's a vocal leader, but he also leads by example, and I think his scores so far are showing that."
Wolfe blistered the field at Kiawah Island Invitational with scores of 65 and 68 to win by four strokes with an 11-under-par 132 total - his fourth collegiate tournament title. Since AASU reinstated its men's golf program in 2000, the previous career high for tournament titles was two until Wolfe arrived. The win helped the Pirates to a second-place finish in the tournament, behind only NAIA Oklahoma Christian.
Not satisfied there, Wolfe and the Pirates traveled to Orlando this week for the Coker College Invitational, a prestigious field of 21 Division II teams in which 17 appeared in the latest GCAA Top 25 poll or were receiving votes. The Warner Robins, Ga., native fired rounds of 68 and 66 for a 10-under-par 133 total. Wolfe shared the invidivual title with St. Edwards' Matt Smith at 10-under as a playoff was not competed.
The fifth tournament win already ranks the junior fifth on the Peach Belt Conference's list of most career tournament wins and the record of nine, set by USC Aiken's Scott Brown, seems well within reach.
"Chris not only has the potential to be one of the best players to play at Armstrong Atlantic, but could be one of the best players ever to play Division II golf," Butler said.
His four sub-70 rounds this year give him eight in his career as a Pirate. That's double the previous mark of four, set by Thomas Whittaker (2000-2004) and Chris Epperson (2002-2005). After a sophomore season in which Wolfe earned All-PBC and third-team GCAA All-America honors, what's been the difference this season?
"I'm not thinking too much out there," Wolfe said. "I'm just playing simple golf, taking it one shot at a time and one hole at time. Last year, I was more caught up in score and this year i'm focusing more on each shot."
"Chris is just more comfortable and more confident with his game this year," Butler said. "His mental game is as strong as I've ever seen it. He's also making more putts than I've ever seen."
Still, collegiate golf is a team sport and both Wolfe and coach Butler know that it will take more than just one golfer's low scores to bring the team back to its stated goal for the 2007-08 season - returning to the NCAA DII Men's Golf National Championships.
"We can get back there if we have our Nos. 3-5 players play better golf," Butler said. "They are motivated by Chris' start and how he is playing. They know that if they play well, with the way he's playing, they have a chance to win tournaments."
Wolfe feels that the chemistry of this year's team has them in position to do well, as well as improving his own game.
"We all get along on our team, we all chat. We all feel like brothers," Wolfe said. "I think that's helping me as a golfer and I think it'll help the team in the long run."
And Wolfe shooting six under par each round certainly won't hurt.
Wolfe and the Pirates next head to the AFLAC/Cougar Invitational on Oct. 1-2 at the Bull Creek Golf Club in Columbus, Ga., a tournament that Wolfe captured last season in a playoff after consecutive rounds of 69 for a four-under-par 138 total.