By: Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
At one point during last month’s Golden State Athletic Conference championship, someone asked Robert Penalber what he was shooting through 15-odd holes.
The Master’s University senior didn’t know.
“That’s a byproduct of staying in the present and not worrying about score,” said TMU coach Jacob Hicks.
Penalber still appears to be living in the moment even as he moves onto a bigger stage at the NAIA Men’s Golf Championship in Mesa, Arizona, next week.
“Honestly I’ve just been focusing on trying to have as much fun as I can,” said Penalber, who finished tied for 76th at nationals in 2017 and who will appear as an individual this year after Master’s narrowly missed the cut. “This is my last college tournament ever, and there is no better tournament to play in than a national championship.”
Penalber’s most-obvious strength is his length off the tee. Hicks estimates Penalber regularly drives the ball 300-plus yards, positioning himself for manageable looks at birdies.
However, at Mesa’s Las Sendas Golf Club, a course Hicks said is relatively short, the key may be Penalber’s precision with scoring clubs.
“We’ve been putting in work with his wedges,” Hicks said. “I think his wedge game has to be sharp.”
Penalber traveled home to Apple Valley, California, after Friday’s graduation ceremony. Hicks didn’t see the point in keeping the lone Mustang still competing on campus.
So, Penalber has mostly trained on his home course, meeting up with Hicks at Crystalaire Country Club near Palmdale on Tuesday to work on putting. They’ll meet there again Friday before catching a flight to Arizona on Sunday.
One advantage Penalber has in Mesa is that Hicks, who split time accompanying different members of TMU’s roster during the season, will be at his side throughout the four-round tournament (the field is cut to the top 40 individuals after 36 holes).
“I’m excited to kind of be his caddie,” Hicks said. “I won’t carry the clubs, but I’ll talk through each shot with him.”
The approach worked quite well earlier this season.
Hicks shadowed Penalber during the third round of the U.C. Ferguson Classic in Oklahoma City, TMU’s first tournament. Penalber shot a career-best 66.
“It’s a big advantage having him on the course with me,” Penalber said. “For one, we have good chemistry. He knows what to tell me and when. Second, he has so much knowledge about the game that it is truly helpful out there.
“Third, it’s just good to have someone else to talk to besides your playing competitors.”
Hicks believes Penalber can position himself for All-American status (an award decided by a selection committee, not by order of finish) after he earned the GSAC’s individual automatic berth at the conference championship last month.
Penalber weathered uncharacteristically poor holes to finish in the top three at conference, behind two Ottawa University of Arizona players who weren’t eligible for nationals.
Penalber was the only player in the tournament to finish any round under par.
“Robert is just a grinder. He never gives up,” Hicks said. “He just battles out there.”
NAIA nationals start Tuesday and run through Friday. For more information, click here.