Golfers Hungry For Good Showing At Big 12's
HUTCHINSON, Kan. - The University of Colorado men's golf team arrived here Saturday afternoon for the Big 12 Conference Championships hungry. Not because of the seven-hour drive from Boulder, they made a few stops to "load up," but because this team has a terrible taste in their collective mouths after their last four finishes in the league title meet.
Those, in order beginning in 2005, would be 11th, 10th (tie), 11th and 10th. The Buffs are looking to reverse that trend starting with Monday's first two rounds at Prairie Dunes Country Club, with the final two rounds set for Tuesday and Wednesday with 18 holes each day.
"Our goal at every tournament is to win, and we do that by worrying about all the things we have control over," third-year head coach Roy Edwards said. "Those include how we prepare, our mental approach, our course management and staying in the present for all 72 holes. If we do that, to the best of our abilities, we'll have as successful event as we can and feel we'll be right there on Wednesday (for the final round).
"We're hungry, and we're playing with a bit of a chip on our shoulder. We haven't fared well in the conference meet for quite some time and the guys are anxious to turn that around."
Colorado does have a history of playing well in the Big 12's, as the Buffaloes are tied for sixth for the most first division finishes with six. But CU hasn't cracked the top half since tying for fifth place in 2004.
Edwards has had his team play their fair share, and then some, of tough golf courses leading up to this event. A native Hutchinson, he knows all about Prairie Dunes, the 6,700-yard, par-70 course that perennially is rated as one of the nation's top courses. CU has played in 11 tournaments heading into the Big 12's, and the list of courses reads like a Who's Who of some of the best tests out there, not only on the collegiate circuit, but on any level.
Examples? Four in California alone this season: The Olympic Club in San Francisco; Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz; The Greg Norman Course at PGA West in La Quinta; and Stevinson Ranch. Then throw in the North Shore Country Club outside of Chicago, Oakbourne Country Club in Lafayette, La., and Eugene, Ore., Country Club, and the Buffs have played on all kinds of terrain, all kinds of grasses. And much in preparation for Prairie Dunes and what lies beyond in the NCAA's.
"We really believe we are prepared for this year's championship," Edwards said. "Everyone is excited to go play Prairie Dunes and the challenge that it presents. It's why you play the game. We believe the Big 12 has the best conference championship in the country because of the courses we play for the event, and the best team usually is the team that comes out. That's because of the high quality of the golf courses and how well those courses are prepared for the championship."
Colorado will be represented by two seniors, one junior and two freshman (both true) in the 2009 Big 12 title meet, though young overall, the group has earned a collective 13 letters including this season. The Buffs are led one of the top senior duos in the nation, Derek Tolan and Patrick Grady, and they will be joined here by junior Luke Symons and a pair of true freshmen, Kevin Kring and Johnny Widmer.
Tolan (71.9 stroke average) and Grady (72.0) have been the story all season for Colorado, ranked 23rd and 29th respectively in the nation by GolfStat. In the top 40, only No. 1 Oklahoma State (three players), No. 2 Georgia (two) and No. 3 Southern California (two) are also represented by multiple players along with the No. 47-ranked Buffaloes.
Colorado's dynamic senior duo is good, but when looking at conference statistics does it really reveal what kind of season the pair has enjoyed. They rank third and fourth, respectively, in stroke average, with Grady first in rounds in the 60s with 10 (Tolan is third with 8), both are tied for first in top 20 finishes (9), Grady is third in top 10 finishes (7, with Tolan tied for fourth with 5), and they are tied for second in top five efforts (5) and tied for first in wins (2).
Tolan was co-medalist in the San Francisco and New Mexico events, set the school record for fall stroke average at 71.00 (breaking the mark of 71.15 set by John Lindberg in 1987) and Grady, winner of the DU and CU meets, have stroke averages at present that rank as the second and third best in CU single season history, as they are chasing the mark of 71.46 set by Kane Webber in 2003-04. Grady's 71.07mark this spring is on pace to break Webber's mark of 71.3, also set back in '04.
But each wants to do some damage this time around at Prairie Dunes. The conference title chase was held there in 2007, with Grady tying for 48th (76-78-82?236, or 26 strokes over par) and Tolan tying for 53rd (80-80-78?238, +28). This is Tolan's fourth time representing the Buffs in the league meet, his best finish being 33rd last year. This is the second time Grady is playing.
"Pat and Derek have both played there, they didn't play well and we didn't play that well as a team," Edwards said. "I know that this in particular has been gnawing at them, and as a result these guys have been motivated by that since then. It's truly one of the great golf courses in the world. It's a golf course that rewards patience, confidence and tests every part of every player's game, both physically and mentally.
"They are ready for that challenge, and I believe they will respond. And if so, it'll set a great example for the other guys. One bad hole here can become, three, four or more in a row."
Symons has been battling a hip injury that will require postseason surgery, but he's battled through it for the most part. But because college players carry their own clubs, it can cause his some issues on those days with 36 holes scheduled. He's been the steady No. 3 man this year, owning a 74.3 stroke average.
Kring and Widmer have played 45 rounds between them as college rookies, but seeing a course like Prairie Dunes for the first time can rattle some. However, two freshmen have participated several times for CU, often with success, in the conference meet. Most recently, in 2000, Kane Webber and Stephen Carroll tied for 11th as frosh, and yes, it was at Prairie Dunes.
The highest finish by a freshman, true or redshirt, in a league meet came in the 1979 Big Eight Championships, when Rick Cramer finished second; Steve Jones was third as a frosh the previous year.
Missouri is this year's official host of the three-day, 72-hole event that begins with 36 holes on Monday, followed by 18 holes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Teams will tee off on the first and 10th tees at 7 a.m. and 7:50 a.m. (MST) all three days of competition.
Pairings for the first round include top-seeded Oklahoma State, No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 3 Texas starting on the first hole with No. 4 Texas A & M, No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 Colorado to follow at 8:50 a.m. On the 10th hole, No. 7 Kansas State, No. 8 Oklahoma, and No. 9 Missouri will tee off first, followed by No. 10 Iowa State, No. 11 Kansas and No. 12 Nebraska. They'll switch tees for Monday's afternoon round.
The opening pairings are based on a poll of league coaches; second and third day pairings will be based on first day results and placed in a horseshoe arrangement. Oklahoma State is the two-time defending champion.