Feb. 28, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
Golf can be a humbling sport. South Carolina senior Keenan Huskey knows the feeling, and he’s motivated to make his final season memorable. That was evident when he opened the 2018 spring season by taking medalist honors earlier this month with a mind-boggling 15-under par for a tournament-record 201 in three rounds at the All-American Intercollegiate in Humble, Texas.
“When you’re playing like that, you’re not really thinking about anything,” Huskey said. “It’s so weird because sometimes it’s just your week. I chipped in on 15, and that was a pretty long shot of about 40 feet. Then on the next hole, I made a 30-foot putt for birdie. That’s stuff that doesn’t always happen.”
“When he feels it, he doesn’t let go of it,” said South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald. “He just likes the pressure, and he doesn’t get tentative. If anything, he gets more aggressive.”
Playing at a high level isn’t easy, and Huskey said he is easily motivated. He’s had a few sources of inspiration for his senior season, including a stress fracture in his forearm late last spring that eventually required him to rest and not play golf all summer.
“It’s hard to not play for that long because you’re basically starting over,” Huskey said. “If you’re working really hard, it takes you a good month to get back where you want to be. I was trying to get sharp all fall, and our last tournament in the fall is when I felt my best.”
Although the Gamecocks reached the NCAA Regional last year, he was disappointed that the team didn’t return to the NCAA Championships, and he’s determined to not let that happen again.
“The screen saver on my phone is our result from (NCAA) regionals last year when we didn’t make it to the NCAA Championships,” Huskey said. “That left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth. We all want to get back there and make it to match play. We have the talent. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. I’m motivated and ready to go, and I think everyone else is, too.”
“I think last year was a major disappointment, not just for our team, but for him since he was not 100 percent healthy and feeling like he played his best,” McDonald said. “He gave us the best he could. It’s like making the Final Four in that when you get there and then don’t get back. You get that taste for it, and you really don’t feel like you accomplished what you set out to do.”
He really looked like a (PGA) Tour player in a lot of ways.
While he may downplay his own skill a little bit, carding rounds of 68, 68, and 65 at the All-American Intercollegiate tied him for fourth place in school history for the lowest 54-hole score. This isn’t exactly the first time Huskey has shown his greatness on the links. The 2017 All-American earned his fourth career tournament win, tied for the second most wins in school history, while leading the field with 18 birdies and only three bogeys for the entire tournament, while enjoying a bogey-free third round.
“That’s hard to do,” Huskey said of his third round. “A lot of times when people start off hot, they can sort of fall off later. That’s something everyone tries to figure out to make it consistent. The main thing is to keep the same mentality and thoughts that you’re having. If you have something that’s working, and then you hit a bad ball, it’s easy to start thinking ‘what am doing?’ You just have to keep the same frame of mind.”
“It’s a tour-level golf course,” McDonald said. “He was flawless. He was bombing the driver, really accurate with his irons, he made some putts, and he looked like he had total control of his game. He didn’t force anything either. He really looked like a (PGA) Tour player in a lot of ways. He was very mature about everything he was doing.”
Huskey admits he can be a bit superstitious, similar to when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter in baseball.
“Yeah, I am. I am,” Huskey said, somewhat sheepishly, and admitted that after hitting the ball well off a certain set of tees given to him before the tournament, he wanted to make sure he kept using the same tees. “Every time I’d break one, I’d go back to find the same tee because it was working. I was hitting it with the driver really well. I know a tee doesn’t really matter, but for some reason, it mattered to me last week.
“When I have it going like that, I don’t want anyone messing with me,” Huskey added with a laugh. “I try to stick to myself because I’m in a zone, and I want to stay in it.”
Huskey also noted that he’ll only use golf balls with certain numbers on them.
“I only like to use number 1 golf balls,” Huskey said. “I’ll use 1 or 4. I won’t use 2 or 3. Typically on the last day, I’ll use number 1. I want to win, so number 1. I know, it’s stupid. It makes no sense. The balls are all the same.”
It’s also noteworthy that Huskey went toe-to-toe with one of the best amateur golfers in the world in the final round of his most recent tournament win as he was matched up with Ole Miss' Braden Thornberry, the defending NCAA Individual Champion, who is currently ranked second in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
“We definitely talk to each other,” Huskey said. “We’re trying to beat each other, but we’re still having fun. To start the day, I wasn’t worried as much about him because he was two shots behind me, and I was two shots behind the leader. I was focused on trying to catch the leader, and it just happened to work out that Braden had a good back nine and almost caught me. I was just trying to get to 13-under, and before the day started, I said that if I got to 13-under, I’d probably win.”
Just for good measure, he got to 15-under.
“The pressure definitely builds with each hole as you get closer, especially when Braden was catching up to me,” Huskey said. “I knew I had to make some birdies. I chipped in on 15 and made that 30-foot putt on 16. That was huge. That put me four shots ahead and helped ease the tension a little bit, the pressure is always there.”
With four more tournaments to be played before the postseason begins, Huskey continues to work hard to be consistent so he and his teammates can reach their goals.
“I’m hitting the ball pretty good and driving it really well,” Huskey said. “When I’m driving it well, typically I’m going to play well. If I keep it in the fairway, I’m typically going to have a good week. That’s what I did.
“It’s awesome that I was able to win the first tournament of the spring because now I want to go win the next one. I have pretty high goals. Beating people like Braden confirms to me that I have the ability to reach those goals.”
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