Bears set for season-opening 15-team tournament at SIUE
Mitch Mather of Lebanon is the latest local standout to join the Bears.
Brik Brauburger is the most recent high school prospect to sign with the Bears.
Coach Neal Stafford didn't have to go far to find his 2012 recruiting class.
MSU Men at UMKC
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Springfield native Neal Stafford is in his 10th full season at Missouri State after being appointed prior to the spring season in 2005, and he wasted no time in placing the Bears' program on solid ground.
"We want to be competing for Missouri Valley Conference championships every year and becoming a strong force in the region," said Stafford.
He has made a habit of recruiting dedicated and hard-working players who exemplify the term "student-athlete," placing an emphasis on their work in the classroom as well as on the golf course. His team posted a 3.61 GPA for the Fall 2013 semester and, in recent years, has routinely ranked among the top team GPAs at MSU.
"We are trying to recruit student-athletes who are very dedicated in the classroom, understand their commitment to the community, and want to work hard on the golf course," Stafford said. "We have put together a group which has these goals in mind, and I'm sure you'll continue to see Missouri State Golf produce at a high level. Our players will leave here as better people on and off the course."
The Bears had a strong season in 2014-15, finishing second in a pair of tournaments as a team. Stafford led Missouri State to a share of second place in its season-opening event, the Derek Dolenc Invitational, hosted by SIUE on Sept. 8-9, and also helped his team to a second-place showing in the final regular-season event. MSU was runner up in the ORU Shootout on April 13-14 in Broken Arrow, Okla.
The results have been evident on the course, too, as the Bears posted their best conference finish in 12 years in 2012, taking second at the MVC tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. In all, MSU notched six top-five finishes and, individually, had six league players of the week and a pair of all-conference performers in Daily Young and Will Hogan. Stafford has guided his players to 10 all-conference honors during his tenure.This past season, MSU recorded top-five finishes in five more events and had the Valley's top newcomer.
In the 2010-11 campaign, MSU posted a pair of victories and finished third at the MVC Championship. The Bears captured team titles at the Branson Creek Invitational and SIUE Intercollegiate, while also finishing in the top five on six other occasions. Individually, three Bears finished the season ranked in the top eight in the Valley. Hogan was named conference Player of the Year, while Young was Newcomer of the Year and Jordan McLaurin earned all-conference honors. Hogan also became the first MSU golfer to earn a bid to the NCAA Championship since 2002.
The previous season, the Bears had mixed results while playing the usual challenging schedule with which Stafford likes to test his team. Their best finish was a runner-up performance at the ORU Shootout in Tulsa, Okla., contested at the acclaimed Golf Club of Oklahoma. Senior Jay McBride led the Bears there with a resounding seven-shot victory in the individual race, the second tournament title of his career. The Bears finished sixth at the season-ending Missouri Valley Conference Championship while Hogan earned all-conference and league Newcomer of the Year honors.
In Stafford's first full year at the helm in 2005-06, MSU enjoyed a stellar season. The Bears finished in the top 10 seven times, including the championship of the SFA Crown Classic and second places at the Fairway Club and Branson Creek Invitationals. They also were in the top five at the Missouri Intercollegiate, ASU Indian Classic and the MVC Championship.
In 2006-07, MSU also posted four top-five finishes -- second at the Missouri Intercollegiate, fourth at North Texas, third at Oral Roberts, and second at Branson Creek. Senior Matt Sullivan earned his second all-conference honor and set the school single-season scoring mark with a 73.47 average.
In 2007-08, the Bears racked up four top-five finishes, including a victory at their own Branson Creek Invitational and second at the Missouri Intercollegiate. They also came in fifth at the always-tough Jim Colbert Intercollegiate and the UALR/First Tee Intercollegiate. Individually, McBride paced the team in scoring average, followed closely by Jack Courington, who proved to be one of the league's top freshmen.
MSU finished fourth at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 2008-09 with McBride picking up his first all-conference honor with a fourth-place finish. In addition, Stafford's strong recruiting efforts continued to pay off as freshman Jordan McLaurin was named Valley Newcomer of the Year.
Stafford was the Class 4 state champion in 1997 at Kickapoo High School and went on to attend the University of Missouri, where he was a four-year letterman. He was a member of the Big XII Commissioner's Honor Roll in 2000-01 and a conference All-Academic Second Team selection as a senior the following year. While with the Tigers, he earned the Charlie Diggs Citizenship Award and, after completing his eligibility, served as a student assistant coach in 2002. He received his bachelor's degree in Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Stafford came to Missouri State from Millwood Golf & Racquet Club in Springfield, where he has been an assistant professional since January, 2003. He continues employment at Millwood in a part-time capacity while focusing his primary efforts on the Bears' program. At Millwood, he has served in all capacities of the golf operation, including golf instruction, tournament management and golf shop merchandising.
Stafford and his wife, Sarah, reside in Springfield with their son, Grant, and daughter, Chloe.