Buffs Gear Up For Final Big 12 Championship
HUTCHINSON, Kan. - The University of Colorado men's golf team arrived here Saturday, set to make history one way or another as the Buffaloes are competing in their 15th and final Big 12 Conference Championship at famed Prairie Dunes Golf Club beginning Monday.
The Buffaloes are off to join the Pacific-12 Conference this July 1, with just the women's tennis (later this week) and men's and women's outdoor track (next month) remaining for the school in Big 12 competition.
The Buffaloes have their backs to the wall, as with a 61-98-3 record against Division I competition, CU must win the conference title to earn a berth in the NCAA Championships - and the regional that Colorado will host May 19-21 at Colorado National Golf Club in Erie.
"As the season has progressed we have improved steadily throughout the season," CU head coach Roy Edwards said. "We have another opportunity to compete on a great golf course this week at Prairie Dunes." The Buffaloes haven't seen much of their Big 12 colleagues this year, lining up against league schools only nine times in 11 tournaments (going 2-7). Colorado has actually seen much more of its future conference brethren, competing 36 times against Pac-12 opposition.
Prairie Dunes offers the best chance for the North Division schools to give their southern counterparts a run for the money, as the South schools don't see this kind of course all that often and the potential weather conditions favor those out of the Sun Belt. The teams will play 36 holes on the 6,701-yard, par-70 layout at Prairie Dunes on Monday, followed by 18 holes Tuesday and Wednesday. CU is the No. 9 seed as voted by the coaches, and will play with Missouri (No. 7) and Iowa State (No. 8). Top-ranked Oklahoma State is once again the favorite.
"While we are here to win, anytime a north team has an upper division finish in the Big 12 it is an accomplishment," Edwards said. "That will be done by being confident, being smart, and playing solid in every area of the game. We are definitely capable of playing well this week. The greens are quite firm and fast which makes Prairie Dunes especially difficult and a premium on iron play. It is also when it plays its most fun."
Colorado has seven upper division (top 6) finishes in the previous 14 Big 12's, tied for the sixth most. The five schools ahead of the Buffs are all from the South, led by Oklahoma State's eight wins and 14 top five efforts.
The five players that will attempt to pull off the surprise of the college golf season for Edwards are senior Luke Symons, juniors Sebastian Heisele and Kevin Kring, and sophomores Jason Burstyn and Pat Wilson. The Buffaloes only path into the postseason is a victory here, as the NCAA requires all teams advancing to own at least a .500 record against division competition. If not, CU's season and tenure in the Big 12 will come to a premature close.
"While the Pac-12 move is an exciting one, we do have some sad goodbyes to make," Edwards, who grew up in the Hutchinson area, lamented. "Prairie Dunes is a special place and has been a big part of the history of the Big 8 and Big 12 Conferences. It will test every part of your game and I am sad that future Buffs will not have an opportunity to compete at Prairie Dunes. It has withstood the test of time and has maintained its status as one of the world's best golf courses.
"But I'd also rather say most of the goodbyes next month, if not at the NCAA Finals in June."
NOTES: Heisele, Kring and senior Michael Imperato all made second-team Academic All-Big 12 ... Six different players have led the Buffaloes in stroke average at one time or another during the 2010-11 season, all five playing at Prairie Dunes along with sophomore Derek Fribbs. Heisele is the current team leader at 73.81, just ahead of Symons (74.27) and Burstyn (74.37) ... Kring and Symons have played in two Big 12 title meets, with Burstyn and Heisele appearing in one ... Kring owns the best finish of the four in the league event, tying for 12th as a freshman at Prairie Dunes in 2009 ... This is just the third time in the last nine league championships that CU won't have at least one freshman competing.