EL PASO, Texas – We take a look at 5 Things to know and look for at the Western Refining All-America Classic:
1. Be A Legend
One message folks in charge of the Western Refining All-America Classic are trying to spread about their event is: Where Legends Get Started. Past participants of the event have combined for 44 major championship victories and 38 Ryder Cuppers.
One of those legends in the making, Matt Kuchar, reflected this past weekend on his days competition in the All-America Classic.
“It was great,” Kuchar said from Royal Melbourne where he helped the United States to a 19-15 win over the International team. “The best players in college golf all get together for a really fun event on a really fun golf course to play. I remember just hanging out with all my good buddies from college golf – some of the best players in college golf.”
In his only appearance at the Western Refining, Matt Kuchar, who was a standout player at Georgia Tech, won the 1999 All-America Classic in a playoff over BYU’s Andy Miller.
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2. Winning Razorbacks
Who would have thought that when Ed Anderson, the announcer of the long drive competition, asked Arkansas junior Austin Cook to lead the crowd in a Woo Pig Sooie cheer, that it would ignite Cook and his teammate Sebastian Cappelen to victory on practice-round day at the Western Refining All-America Classic.
In the Titleist Long Drive competition, it was Cappelen winning the title in his first long drive competition with a 342-yard poke down the No. 1 fairway at El Paso Country Club. Cappelen was four yards longer than UCLA’s Pontus Widegren (338 yards). In the Ping Putting Contest, it was Cook finishing a single stroke clear of Cappelen to win the putting challenge on a nine-hole course full of obstacles including hay bales and cowboy boots.
Winning is nothing new for Cook and Cappelen. The Razorbacks, with Cappelen and Cook in the lineup, have won four times in five starts and currently rank No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
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3. Top Spot Battle
While this tournament may be viewed as a fun event, the focus Monday morning will quickly shift and have a Saturday-like feel on the PGA Tour. The results of this 54-hole competition are official and count toward NCAA results and rankings. Which means the top spot in college golf could change here at El Paso Country Club come Tuesday afternoon.
Top-ranked Texas is represented by its top two players – Jordan Spieth and Dylan Frittelli. Spieth, a freshman phenom, is ranked No. 1 while Frittelli, a senior, is No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
“We have been trash talking a little bit,” Spieth said. “It’s so awesome to be playing against someone who is No. 1 or No. 2 player on a daily basis. It’s all in good fun, but we got a little rivalry going this week and there is a little pride on the line.”
Frittelli agrees that playing against one of the best in the game each day is a bonus.
“The competition has served both of us really well,” Frittelli said. “It’s really nice and I enjoy it. I look at it as a positive.”
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4. Exemption Granted
The NCAA is often criticized for the rules it puts in place – especially when it comes to placing a guideline which has a blanket effect on several sports without any knowledge of what actually may be going on within that sport. It would be nice to see more sport-specific rules in the NCAA, however football – and then basketball – is where most guidelines begin and often end.
However, there is at least one thing when it comes to golf the NCAA should be acknowledged for making the right call, and that was granting the Western Refining All-America Classic exempt status.
When Wake Forest’s Webb Simpson won the 2007 event it was widely thought it could be the last one played.
“The 2007 classic was effectively going to be our last under the exemption status,” All-America Classic tournament director Bob Kimble said. “The NCAA was going to eliminate all exempt events other than events in football and basketball.”
Kimble and everyone involved worked many hours searching for any options that could keep the event in tact.
“We did not want to give up on 35 years of history,” Kimble said.
Since the Sun Bowl Association, the body that oversees the tournament, is not an NCAA member, they found help in Conference-USA. Kimble and his group got the support of College Golf Coaches Association and various athletic directors around the country to present information to the NCAA Management Council and the various committees. The exempt status is vital for the All-America Classic’s success. Without it, players would be force to count the days of competition and virtually lead every coach in the country to say no to a player’s participation.
By the start of August 2008, Kimble and company learned the exempt status would be granted and the tradition could continue.
“We were an unintended consequence of taken away the exemptions,” Kimble said. “The NCAA did not look at individual events. The All-America Classic was not targeted or was any specific sport or event. It was a blanket removal of all events like this, not counting football and basketball.”
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5. And The Winner is…
Based on what he did at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, it sure is hard to go against Spieth. The freshman from Dallas posted rounds of 65-73-67 for an 11-under total and eight-shot win on the very demanding Isleworth layout. However, the 27-player field is not playing Isleworth, they are playing El Paso Country Club, where tee balls will have generous landing areas and players will get plenty of wedge practice.
El Paso Country Club will be about who has a hot putter and who can go low. That is why I have circled Missouri’s Jace Long on the tee sheet.
Long has won six of his last 13 college starts and is the 11th-seeded player in the field and could be holding the trophy Tuesday. On a course where a hot putter and low rounds will be a must, Long has some history with low scores. Seven times since last spring Long has posted 67 or lower including a final-round, 10-under 62 at the NCAA Southeast Regional.