OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Baylor coach Greg Priest had just checked his family and players into their hotel Sunday, gearing up for their first appearance at the NCAA Championship since 2002.
Along with his 5-year-old son Tyler, Priest made his way over to the tournament desk to register his team. On the table was the official NCAA Championship tournament program, which he took and handed to his son.
After completing the registration, he walked to the elevator. By the time he reached the elevator door, Tyler spoke up.
“Daddy, the Baylor Bears aren’t in here,” Tyler said, referring to the program’s capsules of the starting field.
Priest didn’t give it much thought figuring his son just overlooked it.
“When we got to our room I checked (the program) and Tyler was right,” Priest said. “We weren’t in there. I went through and counted all the team capsules and there were 30, but we weren’t one of them.
“Then I looked again and saw a picture of the Georgia team.”
Baylor defeated Georgia on the first hole of a sudden death playoff at the NCAA South Central Regional at Texas A&M’s Traditions Club to earn the fifth and final qualifying spot from that site.
However, when the official results came out, it showed Georgia and Baylor tied for fifth, but the Bulldogs were listed first. The program editors must have assumed Georgia was the advancing team.
“I won’t lie, it was disappointing,” said Priest, in his seventh season at the Baylor helm and with his first team to reach the finals. “I’m especially disappointed for our guys. For all of them, this is their first time here. I know mistakes happen, but this is the biggest tournament you shoot for and it’s not easy to get here.”
Priest gave one of those what-can-you-do shrugs.
“Since I’ve been at Baylor we’ve always seem to fly under the radar so it’s no different now,” he said. “We just have to go out and play and take care of business.”
Playing in the 15-team morning wave in Tuesday’s opening round at The Honors Course, Baylor carded a 6-over 294 and was tied for fifth among the a.m. segment.
The Bears came out strong and were 6 under through five holes, but gave five strokes back over the next four and made the turn in 1 under. They struggled on the back side as well, including at the 18th hole where they had three bogeys.
Ryan O’Rear led the Baylor effort with a 3-under 69, followed by Joakim Mikkelsen (74), Payne Griewek (75) and Lorenzo Scotto and Cody Paladino (76).
“I’m not too happy with the way we finished, but overall I feel we played pretty well,” said Priest, whose Bears came into the week No. 49 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “We hung in there. There’s still a lot of golf left.”
There’s no doubt about it, Baylor is the Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect” team of the NCAA finals.
But the Bears can change that. It won’t be easy. Most would consider it a huge surprise. But if Baylor finishes among the top eight teams after 54 holes of stroke play and advances to match play, it will earn the respect that has seemed to pass it by time and again.
One problem: If the Bears make it to match play, Tyler Priest still won be able to find his daddy’s team picture in the tournament program.