JM Butler heads into Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships with high expectations for himself and his team at Auburn. The sophomore has been a model of consistency for the Tigers for the season, but is far from satisfied.
Averaging a team-best 70.03 strokes per round in his last competition, he led Auburn to a second-place finish in the NCAA Norman Regional at the Jimmie Austin OU Club. Posting scores of 66, 69 and 72, he finished third individually in the event at the University of Oklahoma home course at nine under par.
When asked if he was happy with his performance as a sophomore, Butler replied, “Not particularly. I don’t want to sound like I’m disappointed with the way I played because I had some respectable finishes, but I’ve only won once this season and played in 11 events. I may be in contention to win, but not quite… It’s disappointing because all I want is to win and be in contention every week.
“I guess I have the chance to do it this week too,” he said as he and his teammates continued preparations for the national championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, the same course where the Auburn’s women’s team has qualified for the NCAA Championship semifinals on Tuesday.
“The great thing about golf, you always got next week another tournament,” said Butler, who noted the Tigers are excited to show what they can do after not qualifying for the tournament. the national championships in 2021. Qualifying for the NCAA championships is something they’ve done regularly with Nick Clinard as their head coach.
“We’re very, very excited,” Butler said of the players’ attitude. “It’s the first time we’ve been here for all of us and our expectation levels are at an all-time high, as well as our excitement levels.
“Basically, we’ve been preparing all year,” he said. “Since we came back from the Norman Regional, we have been training very hard. We trained and worked on scoring.
Of the 81 teams that qualified for NCAA regional events, 30 qualified for the NCAA Championships. The format features 72 holes in stroke play to determine the individual champion and the top eight teams will advance to match play to determine the team champion. The first cut is after 54 holes with a field reduced to 15 teams.
“I think the main thing will be to hit the ball well off the tee and putt well,” Butler said of what the Tigers need to do to be successful at Grayhawk Golf Club. “With desert golf, if you’re not hitting the fairway, you’re in the desert, so keeping it in the fairways is very important.”
The second said he “loves” the challenge of playing desert courses. “It’s my favorite type of golf.”
Asked about his keys to posting low scores, the Louisville, Ky. golfer said, “When I play well, I drive the ball well and do everything well, especially my putt. I feel like I’m in one of the best putters, not only in college golf, but in the world. When I’m playing my best golf, I don’t think anyone can putt better than me. That’s me, personally… Putting is what helps me stand out.
Clinard said he was happy with Butler’s results this season, even though his No. 1 player has higher expectations for his performance. As a Freshman All-SEC selection last year, he averaged 72.33 strokes per round, so this year he dropped that figure to 2.30 strokes per 18 holes and is on his way to setting a school record in one season for the lowest average.
“He’s had great results and he’s only finished outside the top 11 once, which is phenomenal,” the Auburn coach said. “His expectations are high. He hopes to be the best player in the world.
“I will say this, elite players – elite people in the world – are wired differently. His mindset is wired differently. He hopes to win major championships one day and that’s why he works on a daily basis.
“He’s only won once this year and he expects to win three, four or five times,” Clinard said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him wrestle this week.”
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