It’s been a whirlwind week for Jeff Evanier.A sophomore on the men’s golf team at Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Fla.) he has been preparing for finals and lighting up the NCAA South/Southeast Super Regional in North Carolina. His season is getting set to culminate on the biggest stage by competing at the NCAA division II Championships, which begin this week in Louisville, KY.
The 2010 Weston High graduate is comfortable mentally, unfazed and ready to proudly represent his school in the Bluegrass State as part of the nation’s best in a field of 108 participants.
“I’m really excited and I’m not as nervous that I thought I’d be,” Evanier said. “Right now, I’m playing good golf and just want to give myself a chance. It’s going to be a very exciting experience and I’m looking forward to competing.”
After finishing as one of the top two individuals in the NCAA Super Regional in North Carolina, Evanier became the first golfer in Eckerd history to make the national journey and his well-deserved selection caps a roller coaster of a season with admitted highs and lows.
In the first event of the season, Evanier made a big splash by winning his first collegiate title at the Jay Jennison Memorial and was primed for a breakout season as the team finished second.
“Everything just fell into place and I was able to come in strong to win the first event,” he said.
His self-proclaimed assessment was ‘good, but not great’ through most of the fall campaign, but his season took an unusual turn while some unforeseen struggles came from an unlikely source.
Evanier was originally stricken with a fever for 14 days going into finals in early December and it did not go away. He was tested for mononucleosis, but instead, his tests resulted positive for Lyme disease.
He was fatigued. He suffered from aches in his knees. His swing mechanics were all over the map.
“It was just difficult for me to play golf,” he reflected. “It wasn’t a matter of mental toughness, but physical toughness. It became a real struggle to finish a round because after about 12 holes, I’d hit a wall.”
But over time, the symptoms have slowly subsided, and he’s back — stronger than ever. Evanier torched the Rock Barn Golf & Spa Jones Course for seven birdies in his second round 68 (-4) and led the field through two rounds of play at the NCAA Super Regional.
Evanier also finished in the top 20 at the Florida Blue Sunshine State Conference Championship and the Buccaneer Invitational as part of a strong finish to the tail end of the regular season.
His mission for this week is simple: work on playing mistake-free golf, have fun and stay in contention.
“Whether I’m in the lead or four or five strokes back, I just want to put together two good rounds of golf,” he said.
Ben Schlessleman is sports information director at Eckerd College.