Jay Rees, head men’s coach at Texas-Arlington, the defending Southland Conference champion, answers Asher Wildman’s questions as the Mavericks head into the spring season:
Q: What were your thoughts on how the fall went?
A: I thought we competed well at Notre Dame. We had a chance to win with about three holes to go, but it did not work out. Paul McConnell won individually, and overall it was a positive tournament. Our home event, we were leading after the first round, but Wichita State played great the second round and we lost the final round due to the bees. . . . I’m sure you heard about that (read the article here). The Brickyard was another positive experience, just a really strong field, but I thought we competed OK. This unfortunately is a rebuilding year for us after winning the Southland Conference Championship last year. I knew we were going to have new faces in our lineup. But you always believe that you will make something happen with hard work!
Q: Expectations for the spring?
A: To get better every tournament. We have only two guys returning from last year’s championship team and we have had a few different line-ups now. But if we can find out who is going to be counted on by the end of March, we can start preparing for our championship in April. I still believe we can win another championship, we just need to be consistent and eliminate the big numbers and three putts.
Q: With so many schools and good golf programs in the state of Texas, how challenging is it with recruiting?
A: It is the hardest thing I have ever experienced. I have coached at Arizona State, LSU and Scottsdale Community College to name a few. All of those schools have college golf traditions, and people want to go to all of those schools. Kids in Texas grow up wanting to go to Texas or Texas A&M . . . maybe a Texas Tech, SMU, TCU or Baylor if their family members went there. I have worked very hard to get the very best junior golfers I can from Texas first and then the top international players next. We attract better players now because of winning championships, going to the NCAAs and playing a better schedule. But Texas is a great golf state, and it doesn’t take a back seat to California, Florida or any other warm-climate state. . . . Just ask the other coaches in this state, they will tell you the same.
Q: After the fall, you guys were ranked 80th. Do you see going to the wire as a bubble team, or will your guys climb the rankings for a regional bid?
A: I really don’t (know) right now. My main goal is to simplify everything and just get us to eliminate the big numbers and the three-putts. If we can do that, then we will be competitive. But right now, we need five guys to be consistent in everything we do.
Q: Have you seen what the Longhorns are doing this year? How good do you think they are?
A: We have not seen them yet. But we are playing in the Morris Williams in March and I am looking forward to seeing the Longhorns then. My new boss, Jim Baker, oversaw the men’s golf team at Texas, so he and Coach (John) Fields are good friends. He has told me how good he thinks they are, and I agree, they are as advertised. Jordan Spieth is the real thing and Dylan Frittelli is a quality young man and very talented golfer in his own right. They have a very sound supporting cast, but I think Spieth has really put them a notch above everyone else. My best friend, Brad McMakin, has a great team at Arkansas, and I would never bet against him when it comes to winning championships. But we have played with UCLA – without (Patrick) Cantlay – and they are very good; so is Washington, Alabama and Auburn. But right now, I do not think anyone would bet against the Texas Longhorns.
Q: Paul McConnell had a solid fall for the Mavericks. How good is he, and do you think he’s gone unknown?
A: I call Paul the “The Natural” because of how effortlessly he swings the golf club. Paul transferred here from the University of Colorado, where he was a top-100 recruit in junior golf. He has fit in here great, he was the Newcomer of the Year last year in the Southland Conference, second-team all-conference and he is currently the No. 1-ranked player in the Southland Conference. . . . He has won at Notre Dame and the San Diego Intercollegiate last year over Kelly Kraft, who won the U.S. Amateur last summer. He may be one of the best ballstrikers I have ever seen, but he is a quiet person who loves playing the guitar. I have a lot of respect for him, and if he continues to win tournaments, he will be the best to ever play at UTA. I hope that he has a strong spring so that he could earn All-America honors. But all I try to do with Paul is to mentally get him prepared and focused to win tournaments. We do our short-game and putting drills, but I just keep giving him positive thoughts and then get out of his way.
Q: Should teams play more match play throughout the year?
A: If the national champion is going to be determined by match play, then yes we should play more match play. I am not a fan of the match play. I wish after a long year that everyone that makes the national championship should be given the opportunity to play 72 holes. So if there is a problem with 30 teams getting in 72 holes, reduce the field size, but I feel that if you make the national championship, your reward should be four days of golf on a championship venue. And if you play 72 holes, you will find out who the best individual and team is.
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