An old friend, a new name

Arizona men’s coach Rick LaRose and Don Puckett have been close friends for some 30 years – dating back to their fast-pitch softball days when they were teammates on a squad based out of Sierra Vista, Ariz., about 70 miles from Tucson.

For the past 15-plus years, Puckett has been involved with the Arizona golf programs, in particular helping design and produce the scoring sheets for the main scoreboard at tournaments hosted by the Wildcats.

Although Puckett’s main focus is on the daily-scoring duties at those events, he also does his share of “go-fer” work at fundraisers and other golf-related activities for the program.

“Puck,” as LaRose calls him, “has been part of the family like forever it seems. Not only with me personally, but with our golf programs as well. His score sheets are the best I’ve ever seen, and they really add something special to all our tournaments.”

This year, LaRose wanted to do something special for Puckett, 67, a retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant who served as a computer technician for 21 years. LaRose’s wish was to honor Puckett’s longtime dedication to the Arizona program.

What better way, LaRose thought, than to name a tournament after his friend.

For years, Arizona has hosted the National Invitational Tournament in the spring.

When this year’s event takes place March 21-22 at Omni Tucson National Golf Club, it will be the Don Puckett National Invitational Tournament.

“We wanted to do something special for Puck and figured what better way than to put his name on one of our tournaments,” LaRose said. “We had to convince him to let us do it, but he finally did agree. It’s our way of saying, ‘Thank you,’ for all he’s done to support what we do.”

I’ve known Puckett for close to 15 years. His score sheets are among the best I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of them over the years at every level of golf.

More importantly, Puckett is a wonderful person, and I think it’s appropriate that LaRose and Arizona are recognizing and honoring him in this manner. It shows that though corporate title sponsors are important for tournaments, so, too, are the volunteers who help make them go.

•••

It wasn’t very long ago when the buzz around the NCAA Division I .500 rule (a won-loss record of .500 or better is required for men’s teams to be eligible for the postseason) centered on the likes of Arizona State, Florida State and Oregon. All were below the mark.

My, how things can change over the course of a few weeks. All three have, at least for now, put that talk behind them.

Arizona State, No. 26 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, are 53-48 after a trio of top-6 finishes this spring; Oregon (No. 30) has pushed its mark to 64-48 after a third place at the USC Invitational and a second at Bandon Dunes; and Florida State (No. 49) stands at 65-53 after placing second at South Florida and third at its home event, the Seminole.

Now the worry-warts among the top 50 include No. 29 USC (45-46), No. 38 Tennessee (34-43), No. 41 TCU (34-50) and No. 42 Clemson (48-48). Other teams in trouble include a couple of usual postseason participants: No. 75 Arizona (35-55), No. 83 Minnesota (24-40) and No. 89 South Carolina (36-42).

But as shown previously in college golf, it doesn’t take long for things to change.

•••

This was a week for some big-time comebacks.

There was Oklahoma State, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, overcoming a 10-stroke deficit in the final round and winning the Southern Highlands Masters in Las Vegas. The Cowboys, led by medalist Morgan Hoffmann, were the only team to finish the tournament under par (1-under 863) and were seven shots better than Texas A&M and 10 lower than second-round leader California.

Then you had North Carolina-Wilmington, which was 10 shots behind after the first round of the Pinehurst (N.C.) Intercollegiate. But the Seahawks bounced back and took the lead after two rounds and went on to score a six-shot victory over Virginia Tech.

The best of all, though, came from defending NCAA champion Augusta State at the General Hackler Invitational in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Jaguars began the final round tied for fourth, 14 strokes behind leader Virginia. But a tournament-best 7-under 281 the last day produced a three-shot victory over the Cavs, Augusta State’s first win of the season.

It appears that coach Josh Gregory is getting his Jags primed and ready to make a solid run at defending their national title.

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