For the past 52 years Bob Weickel has been a fixture at Stetson University. This weekend he will embark on his final season as the golf coach when the Hatters play in the GolfWeek Program Challenge.
While it will be Weickel’s final season, he will be taking three first-year players with him to the opening event. With five freshmen on the roster, plus a first-year sophomore, there is a good chance that two, three or more first year players will be competing virtually every weekend this year.
“We are certainly going to miss those three seniors – Sam Ryder, Micah Jacobsen and Andrew Schiano,” Weickel said. “The first priority is to fill their spots on this years' team with the five freshmen and one sophomore, plus the four returning players.”
Obviously, the loss of the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference champion in Ryder is a blow, but Weickel said the newcomers jumped right in with the four returning players and competed.
“Through two weeks of practice, we have established a top five among the 10 players, and two of them are back from last year in Matt Taylor and Tyler White,” Weickel said. “They played most of the events in the spring with the three seniors. They will be joined by three freshmen – Dustin Dingus, Michael Primavera and Andrew Peterson.”
Dingus (Palm Harbor, Fla.) has emerged as the number one player through qualifying with an average of near 71. Primavera (Naples, Fla.) has averaged around 72 or 73 and is number two. Peterson (Andover, Minn.) is the only non-Floridian among the Hatters’ five for this weekend.
Weickel said his primary concern for the opening tournament is that the young players might get a case of the jitters.
“I worry about them getting nervous in their first event,” Weickel said. “That is something I have seen from freshmen over the years. They qualify well, but that first event is a little bit different than the AJGA events and high school. I hope their maturity, now that they have been playing and have had to compete for spots, pays off. The fact that two of the freshmen played better in qualifying than the upperclassmen, makes this an even more interesting first event.”
While three freshmen qualifies for the opening tournament, Weickel said he expects there to be a different mix of players virtually every weekend, especially considering that the Hatters will play tournaments on four consecutive weekends starting in mid-October.
“The thing about this is that the fellows that did not qualify for this event will have a chance to qualify for the next event,” Weickel said. “Those guys are right on the tails of this top five. It is not like these five have anything locked up. Some of the other guys started a little slowly in the first qualifiers and got behind. The other kids, who started well, stayed that way. All of the kids are playing very similar now, but you still have to reward the ones who were consistent from the start.”
In addition to Taylor (Naples, Fla.) and White (Palm Harbor, Fla.), the other returning players for the Hatters this year are juniors John Michael Boyle (Lake Forest, Ill.) and Ed Waller (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.). The other newcomers on the squad are sophomore Jose Rosales Cruz (Queretaro, Mexico) and freshmen Brian Kehoe (Katonah, NY) and David Torres (Port St. Lucie, Fla.). Cruz graduated from high school in Bradenton and attended the IMG Academy for a year before enrolling at Stetson.
Despite the youth on the roster, Weickel still has high expectations for the tournament this weekend, which will be played at the True Blue Plantation on Pawley’s Island, just outside of Myrtle Beach. They will face a tough, but not daunting, field of opponents. The favorites in the event will be the defending champions from Campbell. Others in the field are Austin Peay, Boston College, Central Arkansas, Georgetown, Jacksonville State, James Madison, Northern Iowa, Troy, Missouri-Kansas City and Western Carolina.
“I know Campbell is in the field and they are always pretty tough,” Weickel said. “It is a select field and will be tough. They base the selections on teams that have done well in their conference. Our girls have been very good and the guys showed a lot of improvement last year and that, along with Floyd's (Kerr) efforts, got us the invite to play.”
After traveling to South Carolina on Friday, the Hatters will play a practice round on Saturday at 12:30 before single rounds of competition on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
“I really think that if the boys can keep the scores in the 290s, we will be successful,” Weickel said. “The standings really don't matter because you can only control how well you play.”
That has been Weickel’s philosophy as the Hatters golf coach since he first took over the program in 1971.
“Winning is always important, but in golf, like in life, you can do well and still not be the winner,” Weickel said. “When you bring 12 or more teams together in golf, there is one winner and everyone else loses. You can't look at it that way. You play as well as you can to finish as high as you can in the field so that when you look back you know you played your best. That has been my philosophy as golf coach for all these years.”
Even though this will be his final year as the Stetson coach, Weickel said he is not prone to reflection.
“I don't look at this year like it is my last year,” he said. “It feels just like any other year. I have been getting ready to go to the first event, handling qualifying and all of the other things I have to do. I really never look back because I have so enjoyed my stay here.
“This is 52 years because I started in the summer of 1960. The last few years have been good because we have won some tournaments and have had some kids go on to play on the professional tours.”
When the season is over, Weickel, who has been known as “Mr. Hatter” since being tagged with that title by former basketball coach Murray Arnold, said he will have no regrets. He also has no plans to ride off into the sunset.
“I enjoyed coaching basketball with Coach (Glenn) Wilkes,” Weickel said. “That was great because of working with him, but also because of the associations I made by helping him run coaching clinics. I picked up Red Auerbach at the airport. I got a chance to socialize with John Wooden and Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, some of the great names in basketball from the 1960s and 70s.
“Everyone always says that they stay because of the kids, but I really do enjoy working with the kids. Since my wife passed it has really been good for me because it gave me just enough to do in the fall and just enough in the spring without having to worry about things 24/7 all year.”
His plans after retirement include spending time watching his grand children, but will also include plenty of time on the golf course.
“My granddaughter plays on the high school volleyball team, so I'll get to see her play some,” Weickel said. “If my grandson keeps doing well with the Padres, I'll be able to go watch him play. I enjoy fishing and golf, and there are so many things to do around here without going too far.”