HAMMOND, La. – The three seniors on the 2016-17 Southeastern Louisiana men’s golf team are a noteworthy group.
The trio – James Anstiss, Gustavo Leon and Paul Obermann – came from countries located thousands of miles apart on three different continents to play college golf at a school on still another. Each took a different route to Hammond, Louisiana. They went through the program’s first coaching change in 22 years. They have experienced peaks and valleys both from a personal standpoint and that as a team. Each has been successful on the course, in the classroom and in the community.
And this week, they have an opportunity to complete their Lion careers with a Southland Conference championship.
“Obviously, for anybody who has been here four years, there has been ups and downs,” said Obermann, a native of Muehlhausen, Germany. “But it feels like at home here. Four years is a long time, especially at our age, and there is just so much I’ve experienced through school and golf. All the friends you make, the home you find, it’s just incredible. It’s been an awesome time.”
Obermann and Leon, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, have been at Southeastern for four seasons, while Anstiss, from Queenstown, New Zealand, is concluding his third season with the Lions. They will be joined by a pair of sophomores, Joris Etlin and William Meyers, in the lineup as Southeastern looks to capture its first conference title since 2013 at the three-day, 54-hole tournament starting Monday at the Dye Course at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club in McKinney, Texas. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals.
The Lions finished second in the conference tournament in 2016, seven shots behind McNeese, after taking the first-round lead. Southeastern has not been out of the top three at conference with the current senior class, having placed second in 2014 and third in 2015, and comes in riding a wave of confidence after placing second at its final two regular season tournaments.
“Conference is an event we always look forward to because of our school history,” Obermann said. “I don’t know when was the last time we finished out of the top three or even out of the top two. Everybody on the team really loves the course. It really suits them. It’s a ball-striking course and usually our ball striking is very good. It’s a course we can do well on and of course, there’s always this motivation for going to the regionals.”
Anstiss said he and Obermann also have the advantage of having played in multiple conference championships as well as the NCAA Lubbock Regional in 2015
“That regional a couple of years ago obviously gives us a lot of confidence that we know we are good enough to be there,” Anstiss said. “We were very close to getting to nationals that year. We had a good chance. This year we have to win conference to get to regionals but we know we’re good enough. We’ve had a couple of matchups against McNeese and Sam Houston, probably our two major rivals going into conference, and we’ve done pretty well against them. We’re looking forward to the challenge ahead and we’re really pushing to win this one.”
While Obermann will be making his fourth trip to the Southland Championships and Anstiss his third, Meyers, Leon and Etlin have one appearance among them.
“We can take advice from those seniors,” Leon said. “They have told us how the place is going to be, how the environment is going to be, how everything is going to work. We’ve been discussing that a lot. They said keep doing what we’ve been doing, keep playing hard because there is a good feeling on the team that we can win this tournament.”
Southeastern head coach Jake Narro has called on these seniors’ advice before, when he took over the program prior to the 2015-16 season for Tim Baldwin.
“For me personally, they’ve been a great help,” Narro, previously the golf professional at Oak Knoll Country Club in Hammond, said. “Coming from a guy who has never done this before, just looking after the other guys and making sure they are getting up and going to the gym and practicing an extra 30 minutes when I can’t be there and just carrying themselves and representing the school.”
Each of the three found different ways to Southeastern. Obermann called his journey to Hammond, “a fortunate accident.”
“A friend of mine who played here (Nicholas Inderthal) knew the coach (Baldwin) was looking for some good players,” Obermann recalled. “Coach Baldwin back then really didn’t have me on the radar, but he was looking for players and always took recommendations for guys he already had. Nico, and another German who played here, Phillip Westermann, just kept talking about it. I knew about college sports and college golf and how great it is and how it can be a springboard to playing professionally which has been a dream of mine for a long time. They kept talking about it and fortunate it for me, Nico introduced me and said I was a good player.”
Obermann rewarded the Lions with a third-team All-Southland Conference selection after finishing 15th at the conference tournament. After placing 22nd at the NCAA Lubbock Regional in 2015, he again earned third-team all-conference honors with a tie for 18th at the Southland Championships in 2016.
Obermann got off to a strong start to the 2016-17 season, tying for sixth at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate and leading the Lions in the fall with a 73.58 stroke average. He currently leads the team with a 73.74 stroke average and has had three top-20 finishes this spring. He is tied for fourth all-time for the Lions in eagles (nine), eighth in birdies (311), 10th in rounds played (113) and 14th in percentage of counting scores (82.9 percent).
A connection with a Southeastern player also brought Anstiss to the Lions in 2015 after he played his freshman season with the University of Otago in New Zealand.
“My golf coach back home came over here on a coaching trip and was traveling round America,” Anstiss explained. “The brother of one of our ex-players, Eamon Bradley, came down to see Eamon and my coach came with him and that’s sort of how the connection happened. I was also someone who enjoyed changing my life and I decided to come over here and experience something a little different.”
Anstiss said that experience was a little weird at first.
“But we have a lot of international guys and in the end it was really easy to get along with them,” Anstiss said. “We had one thing in common and that was playing golf. The guys were great and we hung out with each other and that really helped with the adjustment.”
Anstiss made an immediate impact on the course after transferring in prior to the spring semester in 2014-15. He tied for 10th at the Bayou City Collegiate in his Southeastern debut and followed that up with a tie for 12th at the Louisiana Classics. He also tied the then-tournament record with a 64 in the opening round of the Lone Star Invitational. He went on to tie for 28th at the Southland Championships and for 39th at the Lubbock Regional to earn both Louisiana and Southland Newcomer of the Year honors.
Anstiss made first-team All-Southland and second-team All-Louisiana as a junior after tying for second at the conference championships. He went on to capture the Louisiana Golf Association Amateur at Carter Plantation over the summer, becoming the first 72-hole wire-wire champion since at least 2004 when the LGA began to utilize online scoring.
Anstiss hit a rough patch in the fall with just one top-20 finish, but has come on during the spring to place in the top 10 three times, including a tie for second at the All-American Intercollegiate. Anstiss is also coming off a tie for fourth at the Jim Hall Intercollegiate and a sixth-place finish at the LSU Tiger Classic.
“I took some time off there to try to forget what happened and focused on what was to come and it really helped a lot,” Anstiss said of his turnaround. “It showed over the spring with a lot better performances.”
Anstiss is currently tied for fourth on Southeastern’s all-time list with nine eagles while also ranking 10th with a 67.4 finish percentage.
Leon also got off to a slow start to 2016-17 after battling pain in his lower back. After working with Nathan Quebedeaux, Southeastern’s AD for Sports Medicine, and his staff, Leon was able to come back for the spring season.
“Right now, I’m getting better thanks to him (Quebedeaux) and the great team they have,” Leon said.
Leon struggled his first two rounds at the Old Waverly Intercollegiate but finished with an even-par 72 in his final round, then tied for 17th and 15th at the last two tournaments.
“My first tournament, I played really bad,” Leon said. “I started re-evaluating everything I was doing and what was the weak part of my game right now. I think it was part mentally. I started thinking, ‘I’m here in the United States playing golf, I’m getting all this so I should be more grateful for everything I have and enjoy this more. It’s my last semester of golf so I should take advantage of this.'”
It was that attitude that brought Leon to Southeastern initially.
“I was playing in tournaments back home and I got a call from coach Baldwin, asking if I would like to play for our team,” said Leon, the No. 1 junior player in Venezuela in 2012. He also won the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in 2013 and earned medalist honors at the South American Junior Cup Championship. “I said, ‘I have to take this opportunity.”
Leon said it was hard at first because he only spoke Spanish and had to go through a long process to get a student visa.
“At the beginning it was extremely hard because I didn’t know how to speak English,” Leon said. “I’m really grateful for all the people who supported me through my college career, starting with my family and my coaches. They gave me great support. Thanks to them, I can speak English now. I know a second language, I’ve met a lot of great people around here, a bunch of friends I now call brothers and I’ve gotten to play in great tournaments around the United States. It’s been a great experience.”
Leon tied for ninth at the Argent Financial Classic in his second collegiate tournament. He had a career-best tie for third at the season-opening Sam Hall Intercollegiate his sophomore season, then added a pair of top-20 finishes as a junior. He has a 76.93 scoring averaging this season.
In addition to their success on the course, the three seniors have excelled in the classroom at Southeastern. Obermann was named to the Fall 2016 Southeastern President’s List with a 3.97 GPA in Finance and was one of three senior student-athletes recently honored for having the highest GPA in the Southeastern athletic department among graduating seniors. He is also a three-time Southland Conference Spring Commissioners Honor Roll selection.
“I give credit to Ms. Bentley,” Obermann said, referring to Southeastern Academic Liaison Chris Bentley. “She was always talking about time management and that’s really the most important thing. That’s the key to be successful at all the things you may be doing simultaneously. If you keep a good plan, manage your time and are really being motivated to do both, to get a degree and play golf, that’s the essential ingredients. As long as your time is managed, you can do anything you want and it’s worked for me.”
Anstiss is also a three-time member of the Southland Conference Spring Commissioners Honor Roll. He was selected to the 2015-16 Southland Conference All-Academic team and was named to the Southeastern President’s List in the fall with a 3.62 GPA in Finance.
Anstiss also credited time management for being able to combine academics and athletics.
“We spend a lot of time traveling to and from golf tournaments in the van, catching up on our school work and studying for the mid-term exams and things like that,” Anstiss said. “It’s just a balance of school and golf and a little of social (life) every now and then. I’ve managed to do that well.”
Leon made the 2015 Southland Conference Spring Commissioners Honor Roll and currently has a 3.04 GPA in General Studies.
The trio have also been busy in their careers helping out in their community. The golf team assisted in the wake of the flooding in southeastern Louisiana this past August and has also worked with the Hammond Kiwanis Club’s Aktion Club. Team members also helped out with the Junior Achievement’s trade show. Most recently, team members volunteered at the Hammond Smokin’ Blues & BBQ Challenge.
“I think that’s the least we have can do because our community has provided so much to the university,” said Leon, was nominated for the FeLions organization’s 2016 Sandy Goodwin Spirit Award – presented to an athlete for their work on the field, in the classroom and in the community. “Everything that we have here is thanks to them.”
Narro said the players have benefited as well.
“I do remind them that, of course, they’ve done all these things, but they’ve gotten a lot of their experience as well,” Narro said. “They don’t want to leave. It’s been really good for them also.”
That sentiment was reflected when the players were asked what they will miss the most about their college careers.
“I’m going to miss hanging out with the guys and being around this team environment,” said Anstiss, who plans on staying in the States this country and defending his state amateur title before pursuing a professional career. “I’ll still be playing but I’ll miss that team environment and the structure.”
Obermann is also planning to pursue a professional golf career.
“I’m going to miss the opportunity that’s really unique in the United States where you can study and play at a high level,” Obermann said. “I’m going to miss that a lot. I start thinking about it and it still really hasn’t hit me. I’m going to be gone in a few months and not coming back to this. It’s going to be a lot more by yourself. You don’t have the coaching on a team plus you don’t have guys who you can practice with and learn from. It’s quite nice to have, in this individual sport, this team competition so you can learn and be with other people. I think that is what I will miss the most.”
Anstiss, Obermann and Leon also looked back at the highlights of their career. Anstiss mentioned the 2015 NCAA Regional while Obermann offered a victory over LSU at the 2013 David Toms Intercollegiate a season before the Tigers won the national championship. But both also said they hope their highlights are still to come this season.
For Leon, the highlight has been the four years he has spent with his Southeastern teammates.
“We’re in the same place in Louisiana, but when you start to realize, this guy is from Germany, this guy is from Scotland, this guy is from New Zealand, this guy is from France – how great is this that right in this place, I’m sharing with a lot of different countries,” Leon said. “That’s awesome. That’s something I will never forget. I also will never forget the camaraderie the teachers, the students, the community makes you feel. You feel like you’re at home, that you’re part of this family, the Lion family. That’s something I really appreciate.”