TUCSON, Ariz. – Veteran Arizona coach Rick LaRose knows how difficult it is to win at the college level, even when playing your home golf course.
After all, at the beginning of this season, the Wildcats had only two wins in the previous three years and both came in events without particularly strong competition.
And as far as playing at home, over the course of the first 31 Arizona Collegiate tournaments, the Wildcats won just five times. They last won it in 2004.
LaRose also knows what a win can do for a team, especially one that is young and still finding its way and its identity. While it may have produced a few gray hairs for LaRose and a few of stomach twists along the way, Arizona’s down-to-the-wire victory Jan. 31 in its own Arizona Intercollegiate was huge for both coach and team.
“Winning is tough, it’s never easy,” said LaRose, now in his 34th year at the Arizona helm. “Getting over that hump is huge for us. Playing at home helps because you should know the golf course. Still, it’s different in a tournament. When you’re out there playing everyone is watching you and expectations are higher. In some ways, it’s tougher to win at home.”
The Wildcats, No. 49 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, held a two-shot lead on No. 12 California going into the final round, and the two Pac-12 powers stayed neck-and-neck for much of the day.
But it was Arizona that hung on down the stretch, closing with a 3-under 281 to finish at 17-under 835 at Arizona National Golf Club, one shot better than the Bears, who closed with a 4-under 280.
“We made a few dumb mistakes toward the end, but the guys hung in there and I’m really proud of the way they did that,” LaRose said. “It was a team effort, that’s for sure.”
Leading that team effort was Juan Pablo Hernandez, who shot 7-under 206 and finished second, three strokes behind champion John Catlin of New Mexico. Tucker Wadkins tied for third at 5-under 208, Erik Oja and Chris Capo tied for 10th at 1 under, and Trent Redfern was 9 over and tied for 33rd.
After a so-so fall season and a victory drought that dated back almost a year, a trip to the winner’s circle was much welcomed by all those in Wildcat country.
“In the fall, you try to find out the makeup of your team so sometimes things like rankings and such are a bit askew,” said LaRose, whose Wildcats had a fourth, a sixth and two sevenths last fall. “We really didn’t play too bad in the fall, just not outstanding.
“We have a young team (two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior in the lineup at the Arizona Intercollegiate) and they are getting better and better as we go along. I feel, talent-wise, we can play with anybody and can go out there and be competitive. This win should give them a huge boost of confidence and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the spring.”
The Wildcats will be facing a sterner test of field strength in their next start when they head to Hawaii Feb. 15-17 for the John Burns Intercollegiate.
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Florida State’s golf program became $20,000 richer last weekend thanks to former Seminole Jonas Blixt.
On Jan. 28, the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open held its popular “University of Farmers” campaign where all the players and fans were encouraged to wear their school colors to the course.
By posting the day’s low round of 65, Blixt won the top prize of $20,000, to be put toward the Seminoles’ golf team. Also, Cameron Tringale’s round of 66 captured second place and $10,000, earmarked for his alma mater Georgia Tech.
The majority of players making the cut and playing the third round participated in the campaign and received a $500 donation to their school’s golf team.