RICHMOND, Va. – When asked what the key to the upcoming CAA Championship weekend was for his VCU golf squad was, Head Coach Matt Ball responded with one word, "Toughness."
How exactly do you go about building toughness a sport that's known for being a "gentlemen's game"?
"In golf, it's really hard to build up the intensity in practices, so we tried to have some sort of competition in every practice since our last couple of tournaments," Head Coach Matt Ball said. "Whether it be a putting contest or some sort of other competition, whoever lost faced a consequence that they didn't want to be in, whether it be a physical training drill from our strength coach or some other way of making them uncomfortable. We just have to find a way to be tougher when we're in pressure situations."
With eight CAA Championships in VCU's trophy case, the Rams have been down this road before. In 2009, the Black & Gold won in a thrilling playoff with Georgia State and have found themselves in the mix for a title nearly every season.
However, this year, after playing one of the toughest schedules in the conference, VCU finds themselves ranked outside the top-100 in total rankings, but a deeper look at the stats shows that the pieces are in place for a championship weekend.
Need proof? The Rams rank 13th in the country in fairways hit. They rank 35th in the country in total short game and 36th in greens in regulation.
"The pieces are all there, we have the ability to be a real solid golf team, but we need a consistent three days from all five guys that are going to tee it up this weekend," Ball said.
Golfweek ratings show four schools enter this weekend separated by 20 places-- UNCW, ODU, Georgia State and VCU. Ball believes these four schools will battle for the conference championship.
"I really look at this weekend as four teams entering it with a 25-percent chance of winning the whole thing," Ball said. "Obviously anything can happen in golf with the weather and a lot of other factors, but those four teams have put themselves in position to make a run at it and we're going to give it all we have."
The weather will indeed be a factor. Rain is in the forecast for three of the four days and temperatures are expected to hover in the mid 50s. It represents a challenge for the Black & Gold, but bad weather was part of Ball's planning.
"Of course we'd all love to be playing in sunny, 80-degree weather, but that's not what we're going to have, so again, it goes back to that word, toughness."
The Rams left Wednesday for their practice round Thursday and the opening round of play on Friday. Each Rams player, and their opponents, will carry 14 clubs and play the same course under the same weather conditions. The difference, a championship difference, may reside in a concept Ball has had his squad practicing for weeks. You can't put toughness in your golf bag, but you can put it inside you.