When Michael Burcin began to consider the head coaching position for the Wisconsin men’s golf team in the spring of 2011, he knew that there was a good gig sitting in front of him.
Besides the glamour and draw of coaching in an elite conference, however, the Wisconsin golf program was far from dazzling. It had been 12 years since Wisconsin last placed in the top four of the Big Ten. But the lure of his first head coaching position was charming enough for him to jump on board.
“I knew the program was not where it needed to be, but that didn’t really concern me,” Burcin said.
Entering his second year as the UW head coach, Burcin would be the first to say success hasn’t really been a frequently used word in the program for many years. Regardless of the past, Burcin has Wisconsin ready to improve their vocabulary and add success to the list in 2013.
And he knows exactly who he’ll need to help him do so.
“Thomas [O’Bryan] and Chris [Meyer], for sure,” Burcin said, lacking all doubt.
He’s exactly right, too. In two completely different situations, Wisconsin’s pair of smooth strikers will be looked upon to carry the Badgers throughout the season.
Meyer is one of four seniors on the team, but is the No. 1 golfer that Burcin sends out into the fairways.
A transfer from Minnesota, Meyer has consistently lowered his scoring average over his years at Wisconsin to the current team-low of 74.45. He is the Wisconsin leader stroke-wise, and while he may not like to forcefully admit it, he is by far the team’s greatest leader vocally.
“He’s being modest,” O’Bryan said while sitting next to Meyer, a golfer three years his elder. “I think he definitely is the guy that really pushes everyone and myself. Personally, I really think he has taught me a lot and taken me under his wing since I got here.”
And that parent-like relationship has benefitted O’Bryan quite well.
The youngster from Aurora, Ill., arrived at Madison like most untapped golfers might. “Skinny and tall” was the description from Burcin, before he bulked up.
“Thomas has an opportunity when he’s a senior, if not this year, to be one of the better players in the Big Ten,” Burcin said.
The future is rather meaningless to Meyer, though, in the middle of his last season as a Badger. He’s also in the middle of a scoring battle with O’Bryan, whose own scoring average has similarly dipped beneath 75 strokes per round.
Together, the two have combined to lower their scoring averages by a total of six strokes in the last 18 months, which Burcin labeled as something that, “just doesn’t happen.”
Each of them were a big part in the Badgers strong finish to their fall golf season at the Wendy’s Kiawah Classic in South Carolina as well as their solid showing just last weekend at the Big Ten Match Play event in Bradenton, Fla.
Meyer didn’t lose a match in the team’s trip out east, going 1-0-2, but was outdone by his sophomore teammate as O’Bryan dominated fellow Big Ten No. 2 golfers, going undefeated on the weekend with a 3-0 mark.
Wisconsin and Burcin will use those pair of events as a springboard throughout the year and disregard much of the past three seasons where Wisconsin has finished 10th, 11th, and 11th in the Big Ten.
One reason Wisconsin isn’t looking very far back in program history is that they’d rather sit back and adore what is around them, right at this very moment, which is their new, state-of-the-art facilities introduced at University Ridge this past November.
Waiting months for the new indoor facilities to finally be finished, Wisconsin was relocated to Vitense Golfland, a Madison driving range, as well as the basement of the Kohl Center, during the site’s construction. For some players, their locker room came straight out the trunk of their car or in Meyer’s case, his own apartment. Having lived through it all, Meyer is enjoying a final resting place during his last season.
“You really can’t put it into words,” Meyer said. “I feel like every team should have a home, a place that is theirs where they can get away and work on what they need to do.”
The then-proposed facilities were actually on the short list of things that caught the eye of Burcin when he was weighing his coaching options.
“When it comes to facilities, we are top five in the country,” Burcin said. “There aren’t five places that have better facilities than us.
“When you combine the golf course, the short game area and [the new] building, I think we are probably number three in the nation.”
The facilities paint more than just a pretty picture, however. They also help craft a bunch of ready-for-art golf swings. With that in tow, the Badgers have particularized their goals for the 2013 season.
Wisconsin’s goal is to place in the top five teams at each event this spring, a goal that seems rather reasonable. For UW, it’s a simplistic means to their desired end. If they can accomplish that, they’ll be right where coach Burcin wants them to be.
“If you finish in the top five every week, you’re going to qualify for regionals and a lot of good things are going to happen.”