College of Charleston’s Michael Sass thought he’d avoided the dreaded sophomore slump that some college athletes have suffered during their collegiate careers.
As a freshman last season, Sass had been named the Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year when he tied for fourth place with a 5-under par 211 in the conference tournament and helped lead the Cougars to a league title.
Two weeks later, Sass was the Cougars' top finisher at the Austin Regional when he tied for 20th with a 2-over par 215.
“Mike is such a consistent, steady golfer,” said College of Charleston coach Mark McEntire. “You just know what you’re going to get every time he tees it up.”
This year, Sass, a native of Louisville, Ky., was putting together a solid sophomore campaign – finishing in the top-10 twice and in the top-25 in three other tournaments.
But as the weather started to warm up, Sass seemed to hit a wall in his next three tournaments heading into April's CAA Tournament.
“There was a part during the spring season when I struggled a little bit going into the conference tournament,” Sass said.
Instead of pouting or feeling sorry for himself, Sass went back to work on his game, staying after practice to fine-tune his putting and short game. The extra repetitions on the putting green paid huge dividends in the CAA Tournament.
Sass shot a 3-under 213 to win the conference tournament to qualify for this week’s NCAA Bryan Golf Regional, which will held at the Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. Texas A&M will host the three-day, 54-hole event, which is slated to start Monday.
“I’d been close the last two or three regular-season tournaments, but I hadn’t really been able to put it together,” Sass said. “I played better in the CAA Tournament, like I did early in the spring and the fall. It was nice to play solid in the final regular-season tournament.”
Sass was named the CAA most outstanding performer and earned first team All-CAA honors with three-stroke victory at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh. Sass is only the fifth College of Charleston men’s golfer to compete at NCAA Regionals as an individual. The Cougars were Jedd McLuen (2000), Bruce McDonald (2003), Alex Ellis (2013) and Josh Lorenzetti (2013).
"It was a great tournament from Mike," McEntire said. “I think Mike got better and better as the season went on. He worked really hard on his game, and all that work paid off in the conference tournament.”
Sass shot a career-low tying 66 during the CAA Tournament.
“I was making a lot of putts,” Sass said. “I was striking the ball really well and making putts. That usually adds up to a good round.”
There will be six NCAA regionals throughout the country with the low five teams and the low individual not on those teams from each regional advancing to the national tournament in Stillwater, Okla., from May 25-30.
The Bryan Regional includes host and top-seeded Texas A&M, Baylor, Clemson, Kentucky, UCLA, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and UNC Wilmington, which won the CAA Tournament team title. A year ago, Sass had his teammates to lean on during the NCAA regional. This year, he knows he’ll have to rely on himself to get out of tough spots.
“It’s going to be different not having the team there,” Sass said. “It’s much more enjoyable playing with your teammates, but I was there last year, and that will help.”
McEntire said the Traditions Golf Course should suit Sass’ low-risk game.
“This is a golf course where par is a good score, and Mike’s very capable of putting together a lot of pars,” McEntire said. “There are just not going to be a lot of low scores to make, so the guys that are consistent are going to have a better chance to be in the mix. Mike’s a steady player, he’s going to make a lot of big numbers. He’s going to have to take advantage of the par-5s when he can.”
Sass is one of 10 individuals in the field along with Michael Perras (Houston), Michell Meissner (Rice), Blake Elliot (McNeese State), Zander Lozano (UTSA), Mario Carmona (Rice), Hunter Eichhorn (Marquette), Lewis George (Central Arkansas), Jake Brown (Indiana) and Matt Murlick (Marquette).