2006: Cowboys make a splash

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Sunriver, Ore.

When Mike McGraw took over as men’s golf coach at Oklahoma State in September, he felt the pressure.

After all, he was replacing the legendary Mike Holder, who gave up coaching to become the school’s athletic director. In his 32 years as OSU head coach, Holder led the Cowboys to eight NCAA titles, 25 conference championships and 178 tournament victories while producing a who’s who list of players and becoming a college golf icon.

“Sure I felt pressure stepping in,” said McGraw, who was Holder’s assistant for seven years before serving as head coach of the OSU women’s team last season. “The expectations are very high at OSU in any sport, but especially in golf because of all the things Coach Holder accomplished. I knew right from the start that mediocrity is not accepted and excellence is expected.”

McGraw obviously is a quick learner.

He reached college golf’s pinnacle of excellence June 3 when, led by medalist Jonathan Moore, a redshirt freshman, Oklahoma State captured the NCAA

Division I Men’s Championship at Sunriver Resort’s Crosswater course.

It was the 10th national championship for the Cowboys and their first since 2000. It was the perfect way to cap McGraw’s rookie coaching campaign, in which the Cowboys peaked at just the right time with five victories this spring, including the Central Regional and NCAA titles.

“I don’t think there’s any way to put into words the way I’m feeling right now,” McGraw said minutes after his team clinched the title. “There are a lot of great teams out here. I don’t know if we were supposed to win this year or even if we had the best team or not. But we shot the lowest score this week, and that’s good.

“The thing is, it’s not about that trophy they hand out. It’s about what goes into getting it. And I guarantee you, these guys have put a lot into it all season long.”

After starting the final round three shots behind leader Washington and tied for second with Wake Forest and Arizona State, the Cowboys closed with a 5-under-par 283 for a 9-under 1,143 total. That was three shots better than Florida, which made a strong charge with a final-round-best 9-under 279.

“We played poorly yesterday (298), but we knew we had a good round in us,” said Florida coach Buddy Alexander. “We made a good run at it, but just came up a little short to a very good team.”

Tying for third were 2002 NCAA champion Minnesota, which posted a final-round 282, and first-round leader Wake Forest, which closed with a 287. The two teams finished at 5-under 1,147, six strokes better than Kentucky, which matched Oklahoma State’s closing 283 for a 1-over 1,153. Defending champion Georgia placed sixth.

Washington struggled in the last round with a 13-over 301 and tied for ninth. Arizona State also had its share of final-day problems and closed with a 299 to finish 11th.

In the individual race, Moore started the final round at 9 under with a one-shot lead over Wake Forest senior Kyle Reifers. Moore got it to 12 under and built a four-shot cushion with birdies at Nos. 1, 2 and 4.

His lead shrank to two when he made bogeys at Nos. 12 and 15, but this freshman wasn’t about to crack under the pressure.Moore, from Vancouver, Wash., came back with a birdie at the 16th then closed in a burst of glory by running home a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole in front of his teammates, family and friends.

It was Moore’s third consecutive victory, coming on the heels of wins at the Perry Maxwell Invitational and the Central Regional. His closing 3-under 69 marked his 10th consecutive round under par, with nine of those in the 60s.

Moore finished at 12-under 276, four shots better than Reifers, who closed with a 72, and Georgia’s Chris Kirk, who jumped from 10th to a tie for second with his 4-under 68. Reifers and Kirk were at 8-under 280, one better than Lamar’s Dawie Van der Walt, NCAA who equaled the best final round with a 67.

“This is just so great,” said Moore, who was named a first-team All-American and National Freshman of the Year by the Golf Coaches Association of America.

“I don’t think it would have been as special if the team didn’t win. You come here as a team and that’s what it’s all about. If you win as an individual and it helps your team win, it’s all the better.”

Moore was especially happy for his coach.

“It’s kind of like getting the monkey off his back,” he said. “I don’t think there is any job in college sports that would be harder than having to replace Mike Holder. He’s been a legend and has a reputation of winning. And Coach McGraw had to come in and fill those shoes.”

In addition to Moore’s 69, the Cowboys got solid final-round performances from Trent Leon (69), Zack Robinson (72), Pablo Martin (73) and Tyler Leon (73).

“This is just unbelievable,” said Martin, a first-team All-American and the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “It’s the best way to finish the season. I’m just so proud for Coach McGraw and all my teammates.I have never felt as much pressure as I have this week. This is really a true team competition.”

Probably no one felt the exhilaration of victory more than Robinson, a fifth-year senior who has had his share of ups and downs during his career.

“I’ve been here five years and this is just incredible,” said Robinson, who finished second behind Moore at the Maxwell Invitational and Central Regional. “I don’t know how many balls I’ve hit and how many hours I’ve spent on the practice range. I always kept believing in myself and in my teammates. I put my all into it the last five years, so I knew coming into this last round I was going to put my all into it and more if I could. Right now it’s just an amazing feeling. All the hard work has paid off. What a way to finish your college career.”

And what a way for Moore and McGraw to begin theirs.

While many felt Holder would continue to have a huge presence within the Cowboys’ golf program, especially this season, McGraw says that has hardly been the case.

“When Coach Holder took over from Labron Harris, he was pretty much on his own. Coach Harris stayed out of his way,” McGraw said. “Coach Holder pretty much is doing the same thing with me. He let me sink or swim this season.”

Not only did McGraw not drown under all that pressure, he and the Cowboys rose right to the top.

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