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McDaniel’s resurgence sparks UK golf’s run to NCAA Championships

Kentucky's Tyler "Chip" McDaniel competed in the first round of the NCAA regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on May 16.
Kentucky's Tyler "Chip" McDaniel competed in the first round of the NCAA regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on May 16. UK Athletics

When you have a player like Kentucky’s Tyler “Chip” McDaniel, UK men’s golf Coach Brian Craig says his main goal is to just stay out of his way.

But when the standout sophomore’s results slipped a bit early in the spring, Craig was able to step in with a little advice.

“He’s so good and he’s so natural. He’s never had a golf lesson in his life in terms of a swinging lesson,” Craig said of the Clay County product. “He hit the skids a little bit in the middle of the spring, so I walked with him for a couple of tournaments there after that just to try to halfway caddy for him and help with course management decisions.”

After a second-place finish at the SEC Championships and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., earlier this month, McDaniel is ready to help lead the Cats this weekend at the NCAA Championships at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore.

“This tournament, I’m probably going to halfway leave him alone,” Craig said.

He’s so good and he’s so natural. He’s never had a golf lesson in his life in terms of a swinging lesson.

UK Coach Brian Craig on sophomore Tyler McDaniel

Starting Friday, Kentucky is among 30 teams that will compete in stroke play that will determine the individual champion and set the field for the team quarterfinals. The top eight teams in stroke play will participate in match play with the quarterfinals and semifinals scheduled for Tuesday, and the finals to take place Wednesday.

“Our main goal is to make match play,” McDaniel said Wednesday during the team’s preparations for this week. “But honestly, we can’t control what everybody else does. Hopefully, as a team, we can just take it one shot at a time and let the results take care of themselves, because, I still think if we execute how we are capable of we’ll be right in it.”

Coming off an All-SEC Freshman season, McDaniel opened this year’s campaign with four straight top-five finishes, including a win at the Intercollegiate at the Grove in College Grove, Tenn., in the final event of the fall last October. He dropped off that torrid pace this spring and hit bottom with a 66th-place finish at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiat in Awendaw, S.C., just 10 days ahead of the SEC Championships.

“I think his biggest challenge is managing his expectations, because he feels like he should play perfect golf all the time,” Craig said. “Nobody plays perfect golf all the time. And you don’t have to play perfect golf to finish at the top of the leaderboard. As he’s maturing, he’s realizing that and starting to be able to accept that a little bit better.”

McDaniel said Craig helped “tighten some things up,” and straighten out his mental game.

“I’m hitting more greens and I’m getting up and down more and making more putts, really,” he said. “That always helps.”

Craig and his team have been in Eugene since Monday, but weren’t able to practice on the course until Thursday as the women’s NCAA Championships were being held at the same venue. Though the men will be playing the course from a greater distance, they’ve been able to catch the women’s play on TV and get a glance at how the course is set up. Craig liked what he saw.

“I think it’s good, because it’s a driving golf course. It’s pretty narrow off the tee. This team has been very good with the drivers,” he said. “The greens should be fast, which we like, and it’s bent grass like we play on in Lexington.”

McDaniel agreed.

“It looks a little tight, but it looks cool,” McDaniel said. “It looks like a good fit for us, I think.”

Joining McDaniel will be freshman Lukas Euler from Germany, who earned his place as the team’s fifth starter in the lead up to the NCAA regional. He stayed hot with a sixth-place finish there.

Senior David Snyder, junior Stephen Stallings and sophomore Cooper Musselman round out the lineup. It is Kentucky’s first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2014.

“We didn’t make the NCAA regionals last year, and we’re here this year with a legit chance to get into match play the very next year with the same team, except for one guy,” Craig said. “That means these other guys have gotten a whole lot better and that’s probably what I’m most proud of.”

Men’s NCAA Golf Championships

When: Friday through June 1

Where: Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore.

TV: Individual finals, Monday, 6 p.m.; team quarterfinals, 1:30 p.m. Tuesday; team semifinals, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday; team finals 6 p.m. Wednesday. (Golf)