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This spring was supposed to be one final run for Christian Salzer at North Carolina State. The Wilson Hall alum was one of the key contributors and one of the most consistent golfers for the Wolfpack. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and his senior season was over after just three spring tournaments.
What made matters worse was the fact that N.C. State was on spring break when the NCAA announced the end of the spring season on Thursday, March 13. Salzer and his teammates received the news from the NCAA, not from his coaches.
"Initially, I was heartbroken," said Salzer. "When you work four years to compete for a national championship and all of a sudden it's taken away from you, it hurt a lot. Especially being a senior, for it to end that way, it was pretty tough."
Salzer was hoping this spring would finish off a strong career. The Wilson Hall grad played in six tournaments as a freshman and even had a top 10 tournament finish in his first year. His sophomore campaign was similar, before making a big jump as a junior. Salzer doubled his career tournament total, playing in 11 tournaments with an average score of 73.18 after playing in 12 tournaments his first two years combined. During the fall of his senior year, Salzer lowered his average score to 70.47 and was a part of an extremely consistent trio with fellow senior Ben Shipp and graduate student Brett McLamb.
Salzer would eventually learn that he would be able to regain a year of eligibility, but that 2-week period seemed like a lifetime.
"It was a weird time. Right when they canceled it, they talked about getting eligibility back, but nothing was official. Maybe it was just one or two weeks, but it felt like a long time," said Salzer. "I had a lot of people asking me what I was going to do and I just tried not to think about it. I didn't want to make up my mind that I was coming back to then have the NCAA come out and say they're not giving eligibility back and my hopes get let down."
The NCAA did eventually decide to give athletes an extra year of eligibility, but it isn't that simple.
"The NCAA gave us a year back, but then they gave it to the university to give the scholarships back, so it was kind of a case-by-case scenario where some universities will give it back and others won't," said Salzer. "So I again had to wait for N.C. State to come out and say they're going to give the eligibility back. It was a big waiting process."
After weighing his options, Salzer decided he would come back for a fifth year. That decision came with hurdles though. Because golf is both a fall and spring sport, he needed to enroll in a full year of classes. After graduating this spring, that meant finding a good graduate school program at N.C. State. Eventually Salzer was able to find the right grad program and elected to come back for another season.
"It was tough. Going into this year, people would ask me, 'Are you ready to graduate?' I would actually say yes. I thought the timing was perfect," said Salzer. "I was going to graduate in May, turn pro and start playing professionally. Then this happened.
"I didn't want to go back to get closure just because it ended this way. I decided to go back because I thought it was the right thing to do for me. It was either go back or turn pro."
The decision to not turn pro yet was unfortunately an easy one for him. To turn pro on the PGA Tour, you have to go to what is known as Q-school. Q-school is a series of qualifying tournaments, the main one being the Korn Ferry Tour, to earn your tour card and officially be seen as a professional in the PGA. Salzer lost out on that option, as the PGA cancelled Q-school in the fall. With no chance to turn pro in the U.S., Salzer's best bet was going back to school.
"The Korn Ferry Tour, which is one step down from the PGA Tour, they kind of canceled everything. Pretty much all the pro tournaments were canceled, so I thought it would be good for me to go back for another year," said Salzer. "I had my mind set on turning pro, but I wouldn't have had stuff to play in because nothing was set in stone. The closest thing to a guarantee was college golf and even that's up in the air at this point."
Oddly enough, Salzer's major focus in the coming weeks isn't going to be golf. It will be N.C. State football. Most colleges across the country use their football programs to fund the smaller sports. Even if football is played, the question becomes if schools will allow fans to attend games. All these factors play into whether or not Salzer will even have the chance to play more golf at N.C. State.
"The No. 1 concern that we have, and the coaches and athletic department have been pretty open about this, is if the college football season doesn't happen in the fall, if they don't allow fans and if they can't sell tickets, golf won't have a season because we won't have any money," said Salzer. "That's the main fear and the thing we have to look out for. Hopefully it works out."
Assuming Salzer has a season to come back to with his extra year of eligibility, his final season will look different, especially in the fall. He expects the team to travel a lot less and try to find more local tournaments to play in because it won't have the budget to travel to tournaments in places like Maui, Hawaii, where the team played last September.
"Our schedule has changed a good bit," said Salzer. "Normally we go to Arizona, Minnesota, Puerto Rico, so we're not going to be doing that anymore. We're going to stay pretty local. That's pretty much the biggest cut we're going to make is schedule-wise, not too much day-to-day."
Regardless of what his final season ends up looking like at N.C. State, Salzer is glad to have the opportunity to come back to school and keep adjusting to his everchanging life after college.
"It means a lot," said Salzer. "I told my coaches when I was coming back that I felt like I owed it to myself to show N.C. State my best golf. I feel like I haven't shown them my best golf, even though I've played well the last few years. I felt like I owed it to myself, my coaches and my teammates and I felt like making another run at the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference Championship), NCAA (Championship) would mean a lot to me and my teammates. I'm ready to give it another go."
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