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Utah State golf: Two Aggies break 17-year winless streak this season

Published October 27, 2013 6:27 pm

USU golf • Higham, Jeon collect first-place trophies.
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Logan • Shot by shot, round by round, Dean Johansen kept telling his golfers to string along good, solid rounds. The winning part takes care of itself.

Seokwon Jeon kept that in mind during his two-hole playoff in the Utah Invitational earlier this month. He didn't let his mind sprint ahead of his hands, steady as he closed out his round.

"That's the last thing you want to think about, 'I should win this tournament,'" he said. "I try to play it just shot by shot, not worry about what the outcome is."

When Jeon, a sophomore for Utah State's golf program, did get his desired outcome, however, it was a big deal. It might've been even bigger if his teammate, Tanner Higham, hadn't broken a pretty ignominious streak the week before.

The Aggies golf program has had its successes over the years, but no Utah State men's golfer had won a tournament since 1996. In back-to-back events, Higham and Jeon both accomplished the feat, giving the Aggies a nice boost at the end of the fall season before competition picks up again this spring.

Although golfers in Logan have to deal with winter, Johansen said his program has gained a mental edge over the years, one that should only increase with recent individual achievements.

"I think confidence breeds success, and success breeds more confidence," he said. "It's like the chick and the egg; you don't know which comes first, but these guys have had success as individuals, and it has helped."

Higham, a senior from Idaho, has been beating down that path for a long time. Summer tournaments have often gone well for him, but he wrestled with winning an in-season event. He once tied for the lead, but lost in a playoff.

Finally, in a tournament hosted by Boise State, he shot a final-round 67 to come up with a win. The closest finisher was in another group, so Higham didn't know he was the top finisher until long after he was done.

"Coach Johansen said I would get one some time," he said. "You only have a couple years to get one. It's very exciting for the team."

Since Jeon joined the program out of Hillcrest last season, he's gotten along well with Higham, the elder statesman of the group. The two spend a lot of time together off the course, and like many college students, spend that time figuring out what they want to eat.

But on the links, they share a lot of commonalities: sharp focus, strong-willed competitiveness, and a drive for precision in their games. When others would say they want to hit a shot between 100 and 110 yards, Johansen said, Jeon and Higham would say they want to hit a shot 102 yards and have it roll back two — they always deal in exact figures.

"They never use the words 'about' or 'around' on the golf course," Johansen said. "That's the difference between a good college player and a great college player, in my opinion."

Johansen has always sought a team that does things together, whether it's practice or a breakout video-game session. Utah State's camaraderie has been a big asset to the program, and he thinks it could help the Aggies compete in the Mountain West.

Higham and Jeon, for now, are more focused on one-upping each other. It will be fun for them to figure out who will be the first to win two tournaments.

"We get along pretty well; when we're out there on the course, we try to beat each other," Jeon said. "But it's all in good fun, I guess. I think it's a good thing for the program. We're headed in the right direction."

kgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon






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