College Notebook: A hectic yet heavenly month
Thursday, March 31, 2011
For the first time in months, Andres Echavarria is living like a normal college student. Which means, of course, that there are clothes to be washed, and meals to be cooked, and a bedroom to be organized, and a body to be rejuvenated. “In Colombia, you have maids to do this for you,” said Echavarria, a redshirt senior at the University of Florida. “It’s not as much fun to do it yourself.”
These days, though, even Echavarria’s most humdrum tasks are interrupted by brief moments of rapture: congratulatory phone calls from childhood hero Camilo Villegas, Gators coach Buddy Alexander and friends and family back home.
While his Florida teammates played their regular-season finale, the Hootie at Bulls Bay in South Carolina, Echavarria nearly made history last weekend at the Nationwide Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open. One down with three to play, Echavarria missed birdie putts of 10 and 15 feet on the final two holes and lost by one to Brett Wetterich, a PGA Tour veteran and former Ryder Cupper.
“I felt the pressure, but I put myself in the right spot at the right time to go fight for the golf tournament,” said Echavarria, who earned a spot in the field by virtue of his T-19 finish March 6 in the Bogota Open, played in his native Colombia. Were he a pro, Echavarria would have earned approximately $60,000 in two starts and stand No. 7 on the Nationwide money list – virtually securing himself status for the rest of the season. Because he won’t turn pro until after the NCAA Championship in June, however, he instead must start from scratch and rely on sponsor exemptions. (Despite being automatically exempt for the next Nationwide event – the April 14-17 Fresh Express Classic near San Francisco – Echavarria already has decided he will be with the Gators when they attempt to win the Southeastern Conference Championship that week in Sea Island, Ga.)
“It’s hard to realize what you’ve done until a couple of days later, and I don’t quite know the magnitude of what I did,” he said, “but I know it was a pretty big accomplishment.”
So this downtime at home is a welcome respite. Merely retelling stories from his globe-trotting month seems exhausting. Echavarria’s adventure started in Bogota, at the second Nationwide event of the season, a debut that was shortened to 36 holes because of soggy conditions. Upon arriving in Miami after the tournament, he discovered that the airline handlers had lost his clubs in oversized luggage.
The next day, he and his Florida teammates were to board an early flight to Oregon, for an event at Bandon Dunes, so Echavarria rushed to find a new driver, 3-wood, putter and hybrid, then borrowed shoes and rain gear. He tied for 13th at Bandon. A week later, in the final round of the Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, Ga., Florida was in contention for the team title before Echavarria tired down the stretch, closing with four consecutive bogeys and finishing T-11. The Gators lost to SEC rival Auburn in a playoff. “That was my fault,” Echavarria said.
There was little time to sulk. Echavarria traveled to Louisiana for his second Nationwide event, made eagle early in the final round and saw his name near the top of the leaderboard with three holes to play. He failed to get up-and-down on the short, par-4 17th and missed a putt on the final hole that could have forced a playoff with Wetterich.
“Yeah,” he said, “it’s been quite a journey.”
For Echavarria and fifth-ranked Florida, the focus now turns to the SEC Championship. The team captain spent a few days recovering, but he’ll be back on the range by week’s end.
“I feel like I’m playing well,” he said. “I’ve got the confidence going, and hopefully I can do something great in my final events at Florida,” he said. “I don’t have a ring yet, so we have to get one.”
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Short shots: No. 12 LSU made a late rally to edge defending NCAA champion Augusta State and win the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate by one stroke on March 29. N.C. State sophomore Mitchell Sutton, No. 138 in Golfweek’s rankings, captured medalist honors by defeating LSU’s Andrew Loupe with a par on the first playoff hole. It was Sutton’s first career title. . . . Oklahoma State junior Peter Uihlein defeated Jin Jeong, 4 and 2, to claim the Georgia Cup, a match-play competition between the reigning U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champions. The event was played at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta. . . . Stanford junior David Chung, runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, tied for 58th at the Linger Longer Invitational, his final tuneup before next week’s Masters.
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A look ahead . . .
What: Insperity Augusta State Invitational
When: April 2-3
Where: Forest Hills Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Why it’s important: A delicious appetizer before the Masters gets under way: Six of the top 20 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings are in the field, including ninth-ranked host Augusta State. The Jaguars, who won the General Jim Hackler Invitational on March 14, are coming off their third runner-up finish of the season, at the Hootie at Bulls Bay. No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Alabama are in the field, but the Cowboys will be without Peter Uihlein (preparing for the Masters). The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, romped to an 18-stroke victory at the Linger Longer, with Cory Whitsett and Bud Cauley finishing 1-2 in the individual race.