“Better late than never” might be a good motto for Bryce Emory’s college golf career.
When the Northern Illinois senior wrapped up a highly successful prep career at Marmion in 2008, he still had no idea where he was going to play in college.
“I was a real late commit,” he recalls. “I committed in mid-June after graduation.”
Although he was a three-time Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year, colleges weren’t knocking down his door to make him offers.
“I kind of fell through the cracks of recruiting my senior year because I didn’t play bad, but I didn’t outshine anybody else,” Emory said.
Emory said he was considering attending a junior college or perhaps walking on at a four-year program when Northern Illinois head coach John Cleary – now an assistant women’s golf coach at Minnesota – finally called.
“Coach Cleary, who recruited me, had a couple of players at the end of the school year transfer out, so he had a spot open,” Emory said.
Cleary wound up leaving for an assistant coaching position at Texas Tech and Emory’s play as a freshman didn’t exactly impress the Huskies’ new head coach, Tom Porten.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Emory said. “I didn’t play all that well. … I had a chip on my shoulder.”
Emory said he wanted to prove he could play at the NCAA Division I level, but he only played in four events as a freshman – two in the fall and two in the spring – finishing well down the leaderboard in all of them.
He credits making a better adjustment to the college game for a much more successful sophomore year. He finished third on the team with a scoring average of 75.7 for 18 holes and got his first top-five tournament finish with a fifth-place result at the Earl Yestingsmeier Invitational in Muncie, Ind.
Emory’s strong play continued into his junior year. He finished the fall with a career-best third-place finish at the Georgetown Intercollegiate in Beallsville, Md., then started the spring season with a tie for sixth at the University of Central Florida’s Rio Pinar Invitational, where he finished 5-under par.
“From there, I kind of struggled.” Emory said. “I was in a little bit of a slump. I had some swing problems. … I really struggled off the tees.”
Emory admits he’s “never been the straightest hitter,” but now he said the ball was either going in the fairway or out of bounds or hitting a tree. He said his difficulties driving started to affect the rest of his game. This past fall, his scoring average ballooned to 80.3 after he ended his junior year at 74.8.
This winter, Emory said he worked a lot on his wedge play.
“I’ve always been one of the longer hitters,” said Emory, who stands 6-6 and weighs 210 pounds. “When I’m confident in my driver and I can hit it a lot, it can really shorten up courses.”
That, in turn, allows him to hit more wedges to get him on the green in good position.
“I’d say my putting has always been a part of my game that I’ve been pretty confident in,” he adds.
All the winter work paid off with a fifth-place result at his first spring event a month ago, the Forest Hills Collegiate in Augusta, Ga. Emory shot an even-par 144 over the 36 holes of the event. His play earned him the Mid-American Conference Golfer of the Week award.
“It was nice to get back in the lineup and prove myself,” Emory said. “To get the player of the week honor was kind of the cherry on top.”
He said he’s now “ready to finish off my career the right way” by hopefully winning a tournament or two or at least recording some more top-five finishes.
Emory said how he plays the rest of the spring season and over the summer will help him decide whether he should turn pro.
“My parents [Robert and Laura] have always supported it,” he noted. “If that doesn’t work out, I’ll have a degree.”
He’s majoring in marketing.
“NIU has the reputation of a pretty good business school,” Emory said. “It doesn’t hurt to have a degree from there.”
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle about area athletes competing in college. To suggest local college athletes for a future column, email him at email@example.com.