canada africa partner reservation How Idaho’s Joe Sykes held on to win Big Sky Conference golf title, joins short list of UI champions

How Idaho’s Joe Sykes held on to win Big Sky Conference golf title, joins short list of UI champions


May 4 – The college golf season didn’t go as planned for Joe Sykes.

The struggle was real for the University of Idaho sophomore by way of Littlehampton, England. The results did not match his meticulous approach. Like any golfer, even talented players like Sykes who were stuck in a rough patch, the math major’s patience and analytical mind were thoroughly tested.

Ultimately, months of frustration melted away as Sykes regained his form and joined a short list of history makers in program history.

Sykes finished three rounds at Wigwam Golf Club in Litchfield, Arizona, at 7-under par 209 – his lowest score by nine strokes over par in the previous nine fall and spring tournaments – to capture the Big Sky Conference individual championship with three shots. .

How rare is a conference title for a UI men’s golfer? Sykes joined Dale Faylor, who was co-champion of the Pacific Coast Conference Northern Division in 1952, and Jared du Toit, who claimed the Big Sky crown in 2015 before transferring to Arizona State for his final two seasons.

“That was news to me,” Sykes said of the shortlist.

The best news for Sykes is that the Big Sky title means his season will continue May 13-15 at the Stanford Regional, one of six regional NCAA Championships. The highest score among the five individuals not on the 14 teams competing in the Stanford Regional will advance to the NCAA finals May 24-29 at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California.

“He’s a deserving kid, one of the best kids around, one of the hardest workers and a great teammate,” Vandals coach David Nuhn said. “Really just a pleasure to have on the program. It’s impossible to say anything negative about Joe.”

There wasn’t necessarily an aha moment that turned Sykes’ season around, no magical swing change or new club in the bag. He shook off six consecutive finishes between 47th and 71st by doing what he does best: fighting every day, turning weaknesses into strengths and maintaining faith in his game and process.

A trip to England over the holidays and long practice sessions with younger brother Drew, a veteran player who will play for Coastal Carolina next year, helped Sykes refine his game. Joe and Drew, who are part of the England Boys Team (best U18 players), traveled to Woodhall Spa Golf Club, considered the home of British amateur golf, for a week just before Christmas.

“We were lucky to get access,” Joe said. “I was disappointed where my matches were at and I wanted to turn it around. No one else was up there and we got some really good work in. There are great facilities there and I brought some things to work on here (to Moscow).”

Perhaps most importantly, Sykes began to find a comfortable middle ground between his analytical approach and looser play on the court.

“It was mostly short game stuff, trying to be a little more creative, and also mental stuff,” he said. “There was a point (in the fall season) where I got too technical because I thought it was my swing. I tried to get a little better with each shot in practice and freed myself up when I went to tournaments.”

Sykes’ scores didn’t immediately drop, but he did see improvement this spring. He posted quality scores on the final 36 holes of the Torrey Pines Invitational and the Redhawk Invitational at Chambers Bay.

The week before the Big Sky Tournament, he tied for first place with Boise State’s Cole Rueck at the Battle for Idaho at Hillcrest Country Club in Boise. Rueck, son of Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck, will also play at the Stanford Regional after winning the Mountain West Conference title.

Sykes was tied for the Big Sky lead after 36 holes. He carded a 2-under 70, while others in the final-round battle faltered. He was 9 under par 5 during the tournament.

One of the best moments of Sykes’ season came at the Idaho-hosted Bandon Dunes Championship in March. Severe storms washed out the tournament, but the rain didn’t stop Sykes’ father, Chris, from traveling to Bandon, Oregon to surprise his son for a team dinner.

“Only Sam Johnson (a second-year teammate from Congleton, England) and Nuhn knew he was on his way,” said Sykes, who looked completely bewildered in a cellphone video as his father walked out of the restaurant. “I didn’t really know how to react. It was a wonderful surprise.”

Sykes, who knew he wanted to play college golf in the US, signed up with an agency when he was 14 or 15. That led to talks with Nuhn and other programs, but the Vandals already had an English player on the roster during Sykes’ recruitment. process.

“He had bigger teams looking at him,” Nuhn said, “but he wanted to go to a place where he could contribute and play right away.”

Littlehampton and Moscow are roughly the same size, but there are a few distinct differences.

One of his UI teammates “was a big fighter and that’s miles away from what I’m used to at home. The food is better here, the portions are bigger, which I don’t mind,” said Sykes, who acknowledged a soft spot for him . ice cream. “With a few internationals in the team I was able to adapt quite quickly.”

Sykes placed ninth at the Big Sky Championship last season while earning conference freshman of the year honors. He’s playing his best golf at the right time to cap off a bumpy sophomore year.

“The goal is to be pro after college,” he said. “I just love the game, everything it has to offer. I definitely want to give it a chance, whether it’s at home or here. But I still have two years left here.”

Jim Meehan can be reached at 509-459-5585 or at [email protected].