For Michigan State golfer James Piot, winning is only goal in NCAA Regional

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

When James Piot steps to the first tee on Monday at the NCAA Regional at The Golf Club of Tennessee, there will be one goal in mind — to win.

It’s how Piot rolls on the golf course, and it’s served the Michigan State senior quite well. After earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2018, Piot has gone on to earn all-conference honors three straight years — including two first-team selections — and has earned the No. 1 seed at next week’s regional in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

Michigan State's James Piot will be competing in the NCAA Regional next week in Tennessee. He is the No. 1 seed.

“It’s a big part of my game and that's just how I am wired,” Piot said. “I want to win every time I step on the course and while top five is nice, my mentality is always if I didn’t win this week, I wasn't good enough. That's kind of how I always been wired and that's what's driven a big deal of my game and how I've developed over the years, so that's definitely something that I'm striving for.”

While the Spartans just missed on earning a spot as a team in the NCAA field, Piot will be moving on by himself. He does so carrying a 71.3 scoring average this season, good enough to earn four top-five finishes this season, including a win on April 4 at the Hoosier Collegiate Invitational, the third title of his career.

Twice this season, Piot was named the Big Ten Golfer of the Week as he had six top-10 finishes while carding six rounds in the 60’s, including matching his career-best round of 66 in the second round of the season-opening Kiawah Invitational in South Carolina.

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Now he shoots for another individual title, one every college golfer is gunning for.

“It's a big deal,” Piot said. “This is the reason why you play the game, to have the ability to make it to a national championship and do something special. I do really wish the team was with me, and that's one of the fun things about college golf is having that team aspect, but right now I'm in a position by myself where I’ll try to do something great for the school and make my coach proud.”

There are no worries in the coaching department.

“It’s the consistency in his finishes that are pretty elite if you look at the last six weeks,” coach Casey Lubahn said. “Six pretty good fields not finishing worse than ninth is pretty hard to do. I think sometimes as his coach I almost take it for granted that he's going to finish in the top five or have a chance to win every Sunday with three career wins already and the number of top fives he's had. He’s pretty elite.”

Piot has twice played in an NCAA Regional when the Spartans qualified as a team, but last year was wiped out thanks to COVID-19. That didn’t stop Piot, who went on to finish second in stroke play at the U.S. Amateur before getting knocked out in the round of 32 in match play.

Piot then was the co-medalist in stroke play at the Michigan Amateur before a runner-up finish overall, and missed making match play of the Western Amateur by one stroke.

After a slow start to the season at Michigan State, Piot is hitting his groove and expects to be in contention when the Regional concludes on Wednesday.

“He expects to win,” Lubahn said. “He puts himself in a position to win. Winning takes a little bit of luck. Putts have to go in, but if you're hanging around every week, that’s where great players get to. Jack Nicklaus finished second in a major 19 times and that tells me more about how good Jack Nicklaus was than winning 18 times. James is that kind of player.

“I think if he would have putted just a hair better he'd have won four of the last six weeks we played. That's how often he was in the hunt.”

There’s a good chance Piot will be in the hunt, and if he is, there’s just as good of a chance he’ll move on to compete at the NCAA Championships beginning May 28 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“It’s just being patient and just enjoying every shot at a time and performing to the best of my abilities,” Piot said. “That’s going to be the goal next week. Just stay in it one shot at a time and at the end of the round say I performed the best I could and didn't leave anything out there.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau