Ex-Tigers swing for Salukis

Friday, April 24, 2009 ~ Updated 11:49 PM
Former Central golfer Todd Obergoenner has the lowest scoring average this season for Southern Illinois. (Courtesy of Southern IIllinois University)

Driskell, Obergoenner will compete in the MVC championships next week at Dalhousie.

Two players won't have any trouble finding their way around the Missouri Valley Conference men's golf tournament course -- or Cape Girardeau, for that matter.

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale teammates Todd Obergoenner and Blake Driskell will be in familiar territory when they hit town for practice rounds at Dalhousie Golf Club on Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the MVC championships Monday and Tuesday.

Obergoenner and Driskell are Cape Girardeau natives who graduated from Central High School, Obergoenner in 2004 and Driskell in 2006.

Driskell is a Dalhousie member, while Obergoenner also has played the course frequently.

Blake Driskell is in his third season with the Salukis. (Courtesy of Southern IIllinois University)

"It's exciting to have the tournament there, especially since it's my senior year," Obergoenner said. "I've played there a lot."

Added Driskell, an SIU junior: "Oh yeah, I'm excited, more that I can explain. I was actually at Dalhousie last summer when I found out the tournament would be there. I know the course as well as any course."

Obergoenner and Driskell each have fashioned strong careers at SIU both on the links and in the classroom.

Obergoenner carries SIU's top stroke average into the season-ending MVC tournament, a career-best 74.4 that ranks among the top 10 all-time for the Salukis. He has finished among the top 20 in seven of SIU's 10 events, including four top 10s and two top fives.

In SIU's most recent meet, the Arkansas State Classic, Obergoenner carded the second-lowest 54-hole score of his career at 5-under-par 211. He lost in a three-way playoff as he was denied his first collegiate tournament win, but was named the MVC golfer of the week.

"I've had my ups and downs, but it's been a good year," Obergoenner said. "The last two years have been good years."

Obergoenner had a 75.4 stroke average while placing in the top 20 seven times, the top 10 five times and the top five three times as a junior. He fired the second-lowest 54-hole score in school history with a career-best 12-under 204 at the Arkansas State Classic.

Obergoenner saw limited action as an SIU sophomore after he spent his first two seasons at Kentucky, where he redshirted as a freshman and didn't appear in any matches as a sophomore.

As solid as Obergoenner's golf game has been, his classroom work has been even better.

He became the first SIU men's golfer to be named Academic All-American as he was selected to the third team last year. He should have a good chance to make it two in a row this season.

Obergoenner, an exercise science major with a perfect 4.00 GPA, was also a member of last year's MVC Scholar-Athlete first team and should be a lock to repeat.

"I felt very honored to be able to receive that," Obergoenner said of his Academic All-American award. "Sometimes it's not easy to balance [golf and studies]."

Driskell has SIU's sixth-best stroke average this season, 76.5, along with two top-20 finishes and one top 10.

But Driskell posted the team's second-best average last year, 74.9, that ranked tied for 11th in school history. He had five top-15 finishes, including three top 10s. He tied for ninth at the MVC meet.

Driskell also was solid as a freshman, with a 75.5 average as a regular member of the lineup.

"I think this year has been my worst year since I've been here. I've really struggled this year," Driskell said. "But I think I can still turn it around."

Driskell, a civil engineering major with a 3.89 GPA, also has stood out academically. He joined Obergoenner on last year's MVC Scholar-Athlete first team and also is likely to repeat.

"It's quite an honor," Driskell said. "It gives you some incentive to keep going when you study so much and then your golf game might slip a little bit."

The Central products, who are good friends, had stellar high school careers.

Obergoenner was a three-year state qualifier with a top finish of fifth as a junior. Driskell was a four-year state qualifier -- the first to accomplish that feat in school history -- with a best finish of seventh as a senior.

After Obergoenner went to Kentucky, it was Driskell who helped set things in motion for his pal to transfer to SIU.

"Todd was still at Kentucky when I signed my letter of intent [with SIU]," Driskell said. "He was pretty unhappy at Kentucky and I knew about it because we talked a lot.

"One day he asked me if maybe I'd talk to coach about him getting a spot on the team. It was the younger guy leading the older guy, but it's worked out well."

While Driskell still has a season remaining, the MVC meet could be the last collegiate competition of Obergoenner's career if the Salukis -- the official host squad -- don't win the title to garner an automatic NCAA regional berth.

Wichita State is the two-time defending MVC champion, but the two local products like SIU's chances in the 54-hole event that will feature 36 holes Monday and 18 more Tuesday.

SIU was second last year when the meet was hosted by Northern Iowa, finishing 24 strokes behind Wichita State. The Salukis have had a strong season this year, with three tournament titles and one second place.

"I definitely think we have a good chance," Obergoenner said. "We know the course better than any team out there. Our whole team got to play there a few times in the fall."

Of course, SIU should receive a boost from two of its main golfers being so familiar with Dalhousie.

"Blake knows it forward and backward, and I know it well enough to get around," Obergoenner said. "Between the two of us, we've definitely got an advantage."

Added Driskell: "Todd was talking the other night about some things we want to do [on the course], how much of an edge we have over every guy out there. Our whole team really does because we've gotten them all out there over the past two, three years.

"I'm a big believer in the home advantage in every sport, and I think in golf it's the biggest advantage of all."

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