College Notebook: Ducks look dapper again
After Oregon’s first tournament of the year, the St. Mary’s Invitational, freshman Rak Cho offered the following piece of advice to his four senior teammates:
“I basically just told them that they had better not let me beat them again,” Cho said with a laugh. He had just finished solo second, one shot ahead of teammate Daniel Miernicki.
The comment was taken lightly – after all, the Ducks had just won the team title by 13 shots. But according to coach Casey Martin, the seniors took notice.
Asher Wildman talks with Oregon coach Casey Martin to discuss the team's hot start and the resurgence of Eugene Wong.
“He’s come in and totally lit a fire under this team,” Martin said of Cho. “He’s extremely talented and he’s not afraid to talk a little trash, which sounds bad, but it’s all positive in the sense that he’s been able to spark the seniors in a big way.
“I really think Rak is the difference-maker in this program,” Martin said. “He puts us over the top and it’s been great to see him play well and mesh with these guys.”
Cho, combined with senior Eugene Wong’s return to form, has meant a perfect three-for-three start for Oregon, which is ranked No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. After withdrawing from the rain-shortened Husky Invitational, the Ducks claimed a two-shot win over Washington at The Prestige at PGA West, where Wong finished second. This week, Oregon tied Cal for first at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational at 41-under 811, with Wong shooting a sizzling 18-under 195 (65-63-67) to pick up a five-shot individual victory over Cal’s Max Homa.
Oregon is starting to resemble the team that finished No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings in 2009-10, the same season that Wong won the Jack Nicklaus Award. However, after the Ducks advanced to match play at the 2010 NCAA Championship, they looked like a different team the next fall, failing to crack the top five in all five fall events even though their starting lineup had returned intact.
“I think after that, the guys just got a little burned out and maybe had some new expectations to deal with and they just didn’t play well,” said Martin, whose team finished last season ranked No. 22.
After winning the Nicklaus Award, Wong was considering turning professional after his junior year, but his struggles in 2010-11 (he recorded only one top 10) led him to stick around for his senior year.
“I think this is the real Eugene Wong, what we’re seeing now,” Martin said. “I think last year he had it in his mind that he was going to be turning pro and so maybe there were a few added pressures on himself. It just didn’t work out for him to turn pro last year, which was great news for me because you can’t replace a guy like that. I’m really glad he’s back because he’s going to get his degree and he’s playing at a level that will justify him turning pro.”
The Ducks will close out the fall Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at the Gifford Collegiate at CordeValle, where they will look to earn their fourth title, which would tie a school record for most wins in an entire season.
“I think this is who they are. I don’t think this is a fluke,” Martin said. “I think the fluke was really how poorly we played last year. But they seem to be doing a great job, and I’m just staying the heck out of the way.”
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THREE FOR ARKANSAS: Arkansas claimed its third victory of the season Oct. 17, winning the Windon Memorial Classic in Skokie, Ill.
Western Amateur champion Ethan Tracy recorded his third top 5 in four events this season, finishing third, and teammate Josh Eure tied for eighth. Tracy closed with a final-round 73 to lead Arkansas to a 7-over total at North Shore Country Club. The Razorbacks shot 17 over in the final round, but hung on to win by four over UCLA.
In his season opener, UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay finished T-22 at 5 over.
“I’m really proud of the guys and the way they hung in there today,” Arkansas head coach Brad McMakin said. “We didn’t play our best golf, but you have to be happy to still get the win. Ethan continues to play very good golf and had a chance to win this tournament going into the final round.”
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CRUISING: It’s tough to believe there was much final-round pressure on the players from Central Arkansas on Oct. 18 during the final round of the Bill Ross Intercollegiate in Overland Park, Kan.
That’s because the Bears placed three players in the top 5 at the event, shot 21-under 843 and won by 43 shots over Arkansas State, which finished at 22 over. Pep Angles shot 14-under 202 (67-64-71) and won the individual title by five shots over teammate Antonio Costa. Angles’ second-round 64 was a school record.
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A look ahead
What: Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
Where: Isleworth Country Club, Windermere, Fla.
When: Oct. 23-25
Why it’s important: Isleworth’s most famous former resident, Tiger Woods, likely won’t make his annual appearance, but most of college golf’s top teams will.
Four of the top 10 teams in the early-season rankings will tee it up at Isleworth, including top-ranked Texas and No. 2 Stanford. Marquee freshmen Jordan Spieth (Texas), Patrick Rodgers (Stanford) and Justin Thomas (Alabama) will be in attendance, as will Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State. The field: Alabama, Augusta State, California, Florida, Indiana, LSU, North Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Central Florida and Vanderbilt.