EDMOND, Okla. – When the Baylor golf team left Waco, Texas, on Wednesday and made the five-hour drive to Edmond, Okla., to compete in The Maxwell, it was the first time in program history they made a trip as the top-ranked team in college golf.
Last week, the Bears unseated USC in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and will tee it up at Oak Tree Country Club as the No. 1 team in college golf.
“I am excited for the kids, because they choose Baylor and they choose Baylor for a reason,” Baylor head coach Mike McGraw said. “They have come together, they are all Texas kids, which is great. They all have the same sort of background and Baylor has never been No. 1 and that part of it was an exciting day for them. I congratulated them but I reminded them that this is not the end. I think they understand that, we are excited about that because it has never happened, but let’s do some other things that have never happened.”
Something else that has never happened at Baylor? A national championship victory in men’s golf. That would certainly give McGraw and his team a lot more to celebrate, but claiming a national championship in golf is a daunting proposition, to say the least. McGraw has first-hand experience on just how hard it is under the match-play format.
McGraw also has plenty of expertise in being No. 1, whether that means during the regular season or posing for photos at the NCAA Championship with a trophy in hand. Those experiences should help Baylor golf in the future – obviously, it is already paying off in just his third year in Waco.
In 2006, his first year as the head coach at Oklahoma State, McGraw guided his team to a title in Sunriver, Ore. In 2009, the NCAA championship changed to a match-play format. In the first three seasons with match play deciding the national champion, Oklahoma State would enter the postseason ranked No. 1 in college golf, but fail to come away with another trophy. In two of those three seasons, the Cowboys would win the stroke-play portion of the championship but fall in match play.
After his time in Stillwater, McGraw spent the 2014 season at Alabama as an assistant coach. There, he helped Jay Seawell guide the Crimson Tide not only to the No. 1 ranking during the regular season, but also to a national title.
At Baylor, the message is now reality.
“Getting the kids to believe that something like that is possible,” McGraw said. “The ranking is something we can celebrate like we would celebrate a conference championship, but the year is not over. You don’t think about it for weeks and weeks. It’s just part of the good year we are having and I just want to keep them on that path and I think they are starting to believe they are pretty good and that’s important.”
If the players didn’t already believe, they certainly do now.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” junior Matthew Perrine said. “He has an incredible talent for bringing the best out of us, but letting us play our own games and play to our strengths. There is so much knowledge to soak up from him.”
The Bears have come out on top at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate, The All-American and the Linger Longer Invitational this season. They have added three more runner-up finishes and have not finished worse than third since a season-opening 10th at the Gopher Invitational back in September.
The Bears enter The Maxwell having the low-team round in six consecutive tournaments.
The format this week at The Maxwell is unique to college golf with all five players playing together in one grouping. Team chemistry and momentum is an ingredient to success in this format, something that is certainly evident with this Baylor squad.
“They are really, really good friends and when you get that you just cherish it because that is not always the case in a small unit like that,” McGraw said. “Not only the first time they have played in a tournament ranked No. 1 in the country, they are doing it together.”
This week, all five players – who have combined to shoot 73 of 115 rounds at par or better this year – are ranked in the top 80 in the individual rankings. Braden Bailey, a sophomore, leads the way at No. 25, with freshman Cooper Dossey ranked No. 27.
Baylor will have competition with the likes of No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 14 Oklahoma aiming to top the newly rated No. 1 team.
“It’s fantastic. It’s awesome. It’s what you want,” McGraw said.
He should know. He’s been there and done that many times before.