Every golf course has its challenges. The greens could be fast. The rough may be thick. There might be bunkers or water hazards. The fairways could be narrow. Maybe the pin placements are tricky.
"If you think there's anything easy about golf," UW coach Joe Jensen says, "then you've never played the game."
The University of Wyoming men's golf team, though, has conquered a challenge greater than any golf course.
It has conquered the classroom.
The Cowboys — fronted by Phil Henzlik, Gabe Maier, and Zach Zaremba — were recently honored by the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) as one of just 64 All-Academic Teams in the nation, an achievement that Jensen says "sets the standard" for his program.
"The award really just shows the respect that all of us have for academics," says Henzlik, a physiology major from Rapid City, South Dakota, who plans to enroll in dental school after graduation in May. "When you're a student-athlete, you basically have two full-time jobs.
That's something we take seriously on our team. Some teams don't get it, but we get it." Henzlik, Maier, and Zaremba earned individual GCAA accolades, as well. They were among just 119 NCAA Division I golfers, of around 3,000, to be chosen as Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholars, an honor earned through excellence both in the classroom and on the links.
UW was one of only seven programs nationally with three selections.
"We're gone [at tournaments] a lot. We're very aggressive with our schedule, and to do that, you have to have kids who get it," says Jensen, who has seen all but one of his golfers graduate since taking over the UW program in 2002. "It's very non-traditional. They have to study in the airport, on the plane or wherever they can find the time. They just have to kind of fit it in. We may get home late one night, and they might have an exam first thing in the morning, but they don't complain. They know they have a job to do. I give them a lot of credit."
Only teams with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or higher earned GCAA honors. The guidelines for All-America Scholar status included a per round stroke average under 76, a GPA of 3.2 or higher, and participation in at least 70 percent of his team's competitive rounds.
"All of us are here because we like to have success, whether athletically or academically," says Maier, a Cody native who last fall became just the fifth Cowboy, and the first since 2002, to reach the NCAA Regional Tournament. "That's the culture here." The golfers say their success is also a testament to the professors and academic support staff at UW.
"Most of the professors have been just phenomenal," says Zaremba, a business administration major from Pueblo, Colorado, who, like Maier, plans to seek his PGA Tour card upon graduation. "They've been understanding and accepting and willing to help you if you help yourself.
I really hope that professors can look at a golfer now and say, 'Oh, I don't have to worry about him.'"
Maier also singles out Jensen.
"The awards obviously mean a lot to us and show our dedication to the program and to the school," says Maier, who will wrap up his degree in business administration this fall. "But it's also a big tribute to Joe and the way he runs the program and the way he cares about all of us as people."
Jensen's dedication doesn't stop at the edge of the green. Remember that one golfer who hasn't graduated?
"I'm paying for his online courses," Jensen says. "He'll graduate."