So far this season, the Sam Houston State golf team is even better than expected.
The Bearkats have won two of the four tournaments played this fall. It’s a well-rounded team, which head coach Brandt Kieschnick last week called an excellent group to work with because of how the players prepare and approach the game.
Junior Zach Cabra, however, has been quite the pleasant surprise for the Bearkats. Cabra was a late addition to the team over the summer, transferring from St. Thomas for an opportunity to compete at the Division I level.
All that’s come of it is Cabra leading SHSU to victory at the Kansas State Jim Colbert Invitational (Sept. 30 – Oct. 1), then the Harold Funston hosted by the Kats at Raven Nest from Oct. 7-8.
Cabra has paced SHSU to top 10 finishes in three of its four tournaments and posted rounds of 73-67-73–213 to earn top individual medalist honors at the Kansas State tournament.
He broke 70 in every round at the Harold Funston and tied for the low-round of the tournament with a first-round 67.
“I’ve really learned how to understand the game and how to approach the game,” Cabra said. “More than just going out there and hitting a golf ball, doing stuff physically, it’s more about mental.”
Cabra is still pretty raw as a golfer with a powerful swing. He didn’t start playing competitively until his junior year at Boyd, where he was also an all-district basketball player.
Cabra’s stepfather was one of his basketball coaches and the sport was his first love. But at 5 feet 10 inches tall, Cabra decided to go the golf route instead.
Kieschnick, just like Cabra’s former coach at St. Thomas Matt Luther, called the 21-year-old junior from McKinney Boyd one of the most physically gifted golfers he’s ever seen.
Cabra, looking for a new opportunity, emailed Kieschnick over the summer to show his interest in the SHSU program.
“I think the biggest thing for me was his scoring average on hard golf courses,” Kieschnick said. “Winning and then the scoring average on really good golf courses led me to believe he could come in and help us. We really haven’t messed with his physical game. We’ve done some putting drills. But what we’ve done is just learning how to take his great game and get around a golf course and how to score better.
“We’ve really taken the mental aspect of how a professional thinks and he’s a quick learner.”
Cabra had to learn on the fly when he was 11-years-old and diagnosed with juvenile Type 1 diabetes. At one point, he lost 30 pounds in just one month. Everything had slowed down for the usually active Cabra.
He knows it’s not something he’s overcome with it being a lifelong diagnosis, but he handles the four daily injections of insulin like a champion. Cabra’s outlook: it could be worse.
“I’ve always been able to monitor it really well and keep control of it,” he said. “It does affect you in terms of time and certain situations. You can’t do everything you want to. But I don’t really feel like it’s held me back in anything.”
Almost three months into his time at SHSU, the transfer could not be working out any better for Cabra. The team’s goals are to win a Southland Conference title and compete on the national level as well. Kieschnick said the better this team performs, the higher they have to set the bar.
“I wanted to play against better competition,” Cabra said. “When I talked to Coach Kieschnick here at Sam, I really felt a connection with him in terms of what he could offer to my game and what I could offer to him. I just felt like we connected well in terms of our abilities and the way he could explain the game and the way I could adapt to how he helped me understand.
“I also thought that the team was really coming along well and we had a great chance to compete, which is what I want more than anything. I love to win and I hate to lose.”
Win or lose, Cabra’s enjoying his time as a Bearkat not just on the golf course, but of it as well. He’s excelled in the classroom as an honor student dating back to high school. Cabra describes himself as more of a natural student than a book worm. He also prides himself on still being a big kid who is focused but not taking himself too seriously.
Whatever his approach is, it’s working.
“I like how we can all go to sporting events and everyone’s there supporting the team,” Cabra said. “The campus itself is always beautiful and nice to walk through and talk with people. Class sizes are not that huge, so you get to meet people there, too. I’ve really enjoyed it here so far.”