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All-golf, all-the-time the right approach for KU's Cecil Belisle

Senior transfer believes there's a correlation between everything he does in life & what happens on the golf course

8 min read
Kansas golfer Cecil Belisle tees off during a round last fall. [Kansas Athletics photos]

Jackie King, mother of Kansas sophomore golfer Will King, is watching from a distance as her son approaches a green at Notre Dame’s picturesque The Warren Golf Course, home of the Fighting Irish Classic. She notes that her son did not inherit his golf ability from her.

“I’m just learning so my husband and I can play in retirement together,” Jackie said. “Otherwise, I’m afraid I’d never see him.”

Will’s mom looks to her right and loves what she sees, KU senior Cecil Belisle stepping away from the tee box on a backed-up hole so that he can tune into King’s round.

Stellar spring opener

Belisle and the Jayhawks opened their spring schedule this week in La Quinta, California, playing at The Prestige golf tournament on the Greg Norman Course at PGA West.

After firing a 2nd-round 66 on Day 2 — the lowest single-round score of his KU career to date — Belisle took the individual lead into Wednesday's final round, where he fired his second 67 of the week to bring home the individual title and help lead the Jayhawks to a second-place team finish.

Belisle won this year's event by two strokes at 13-under-par. His total score of 200 tied the school record for individual 54-hole score.

He's just the 10th male golfer in school history to win two tournaments in the same season and the first since Chase Hanna did it during the 2016-17 season.

“That’s Cecil for you,” Jackie said of her son’s roommate at home and on the road. “Look at him. He’s got his own round to worry about and he’s still taking the time to cheer for his teammate.”

It’s her son that King has come to watch, but it’s clear she’s fond of his roommate.

“I told Will from the beginning, he’s the guy you want to live with because he’s the one who isn’t going to be having the parties when you get home,” Jackie King said. “You can come home and go to sleep and not worry about him keeping you up all night.”

She’s right about that. Through the decades, many a Kansas golfer has been known to cut the tension from pressure-packed rounds by cracking open cold ones and letting the powers of concentration take an extended break.

That approach has worked well for some, but it’s not a training method that Belisle has any interest in testing. He doesn’t judge anyone who does; it’s just not for him.

“I don’t do that at all,” said Belisle, who played two years of junior college golf before coming to KU. “I think I’ve been out twice since I’ve been at KU, which isn’t very long, and I think one time I didn’t even have one drink. I think I was just there to give them rides and hang out with them because they wanted me to be there, and I went and practiced the rest of the day after that.”

Belisle figures that he is more likely to find the key to unlocking his next tweak that leads to improvement by practicing on the golf course than partying with friends.

Oh well, at least he has fun attending his school’s basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse, where the atmosphere itself is almost as exhilarating to experience as watching the NBA prospects dunking the night away on James Naismith Court, right? At least he can kick back and enjoy watching Kansas play football when he’s not playing in a tournament, right?

“I don’t go to football games,” Belisle said. “I don’t go to basketball games. I feel like I’ve been blessed to play the game of golf, so I’m going to put as much effort as I can into the game, so I’m going to put as much time as I can into the game, and if I’m not doing that, I do my best to stay on top of my schoolwork.”

The Big 12 is loaded with athletes dreaming of professional careers in their sports. Most of them have the maturity to earn degrees with an eye toward another career in case they can’t make a living in sports, but that isn’t Belisle’s primary motivation for taking care of business in the classroom as a Communications major.

“He works as hard as anyone I have ever coached and always comes to the building looking to get better.” — Kansas golf coach Jamie Bermel on senior Cecil Belisle

Improving as a golfer is his main motivation for improving his study habits.

“I’m not the best student, but I think that that work ethic in the classroom will transfer over to the golf course, so I believe (that) how you think in the classroom is going to be how you think here on the golf course,” Belisle said. “And how you think here is going to be how you think in life. Everything is one mindset.”

And golf is always at the front of this mind.

“It’s never, ‘OK, I’m going to turn my golf mind off now,’” he said. “Yeah, I might not think about golf as much when I’m off the course, but it’s still there. I’m still thinking about it. Still disciplined.”

The more he sharpens his discipline away from golf, the sharper he figures it will be in competition.

Nobody questioned Belisle’s all-business, all-golf approach when he won a big tournament in Grand Haven, Mich. last September.

The Folds of Honor Collegiate carries extra meaning for Kansas because its founder, Lt. Col. Dan Rooney played golf for KU, and went to become an F16 fighter pilot. His Folds of Honor charity raises money to help the families of those who have died or been disabled in combat. Most of it goes to scholarships for spouses and children and for other educational programs for them such as tutoring.

Gary Woodland, the most accomplished golfer in KU history, has drawn attention to Folds of Honor by wearing the logo on his clothes and/or equipment during PGA tournaments.

Belisle came from three strokes back at the start of the final round to win the tourney played at American Dunes Golf Club.

Kansas men’s golf coach Jamie Bermel had Zach Johnson (two-time major winner, $45.9 million career earnings) at Drake and Martin Laird ($17.8 million earnings) at Colorado State. He is not easily impressed by how hard golfers work at their games because that’s what he expects.

Belisle impresses him.

“I’ve had quite a few champions in my career, but this win for Cecil is extra special,” Bermel said. “He works as hard as anyone I have ever coached and always comes to the building looking to get better.”

Belisle’s mother, Diane, is a speech pathologist teaching children ages 4 and 5 in the Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan School District in Minnesota.

“It was the first day of school, so I couldn’t be there,” Diane said as she walked Warren. “But my husband (Mike) was there. It was quite the thrill. At work, everyone was so kind, and they were all watching on the monitors.”

Cecil said that by the time he found out he had won the closely contested tournament, he was already at the airport with the rest of the team. The tight flight time didn’t enable him to soak up the victory at a trophy ceremony.

“It’s all right,” he said. “We are pretty spoiled, pretty blessed to be able to travel around the States and play different courses, which is very fun.”

Generally, the courses Kansas plays are even nicer and tougher than many that he played when competing for South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. No matter the venue, some golfers perform better than others when their names make it high on the leaderboard.

That win was Belisle’s first NCAA victory, but not his first in a big tournament. Playing for Red Wing High, he won Minnesota individual state championships in his sophomore and senior seasons and took third as a junior.

He was the individual national junior college champion in both of his seasons at South Mountain.

Yet, even with all that proof of performing so well under pressure, Division I schools didn’t come calling, which did not surprise Belisle.

“No one was ever going to look at me unless I reached out,” he said. “I played pretty well, but I never posted any super low numbers that popped anybody’s eyes.”

So, he logged on and reached out himself, emailing D-I golf coaches. Bermel liked what he heard from him and about him from Jayhawks who knew him from playing in summer tournaments.

“I just thought here’s a kid who keeps getting better every year, thought he’d be a nice fit, brings a little experience playing junior college,” Bermel said of why he recruited him.

Belisle made the coach look especially wise for giving him a partial scholarship when he won the Folds of Honor tourney.

“It was a cool event,” Bermel said. “He played well, kind of hung around there on a hard golf course, difficult conditions, managed his ball and was kind of the last survivor.”

Belisile said that he suspects his character as much as his golf led Bermel to recruit him, and he attributes his character traits to his faith. In an age when some find it uncool to talk about God, Belisle doesn’t shy away from the topic.

“Being a follower of God, I believe that He helps us in every way to act in a certain way like Jesus Christ did and to be as perfect as we can be in His eyes and have that nice self-control and respect and love and hope for everything for the best for everyone,” Belisle said. “Yes, we’re out her competing, but obviously, we want what’s best for everyone.”

What’s best for every golfer is to play well every day. That’s not golf. An unforgivingly unpredictable game, golf has a way of making consistency as difficult to hang onto as a scrambling Todd Reesing or Jalon Daniels.

Belisle’s first hole at the Fighting Irish Classic could not have been more different from his closing ones at his Folds of Honor victory.

It would have been nice if Belisle could have birdied his first hole at Warren as a birthday present to his mother. Instead, he carded a quadruple-bogey 8.

That’s golf sometimes, no matter how hard you work at it. Sometimes it decides to work on you, see if it can break you. It has bent Belisle and every other golfer, at least a little, but it hasn’t broken him. As Bermel said, Belisile keeps getting better every year.

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