2005: College - Cowboys remain holders of ‘favorite’ tag
Mike Holder knows the routine, knows what to expect, knows what has to be done to reach the pinnacle of college golf.
He should. The Oklahoma State coach has been at the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship 32 consecutive times now, more than any other active coach. Along the way, Holder has amassed eight of Oklahoma State’s nine NCAA titles, and only once in those 32 years has his team failed to play 72 holes, that coming in 2001 when the Cowboys missed the 36-hole cut.
Most of those seasons, Holder’s team has been considered one of the favorites – if not the favorite – to win it all.
And when this year’s field of 30 teams gathers June 1-4 at Caves Valley Golf Club just outside Baltimore, Holder and the Cowboys again will be the targets at whom everyone is aiming.
While the Cowboys’ runner-up finish at the NCAA Central Regional was disappointing – they led after two rounds – Oklahoma State still enters the NCAA finals No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. The Cowboys have won seven times this season and never finished out of the top five. They’ve won four of their last six starts, including the Big 12 Championship.
“Without a doubt, Okie State is the team to beat,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack, whose Bulldogs rank No. 2 nationally. “They’ve had a great season and are solid from top to bottom.”
If that isn’t enough, Oklahoma State has a little history on its side. The last time the Cowboys won the Big 12 was 2000, and the last time an OSU team won seven-plus times in a single season was 1994-95 (eight wins). They won the NCAA title on both occasions.
“When you look at the rankings, it shows we were the best team over the course of the year,” Holder said. “But that part of the year is behind us now. We still have one more to play and it’s the biggest one of all.”
The Cowboys opened their season last fall with a victory at the Golfweek/Ping Preview at Caves Valley, a layout Holder feels will be a good test for the NCAA finals.
“I like the golf course. It’s the kind where I feel the best team will come out on top,” Holder said.
“I like the fact that they are going to have some rough, and I envision the greens to be firm and fast. I feel that combination will weed out some teams.
“Will winning the Preview give our guys confidence coming in and make them feel comfortable about the course? Well, if that’s the way they feel, I’m sure not going to discourage them from thinking that. The bottom line, though, is we’re still going to have to play well.”
But don’t expect the other 29 teams to hand the Cowboys the championship without a fight. As usual, the field is packed with power and could produce a surprise, as was the case last year when California emerged as the champion.
Said Texas coach John Fields: “You could name off the five or six favorites that are going in there, but it could be the same scenario as last year: Somebody nobody is even thinking about could win that golf tournament. That’s how deep college golf is nowadays.”
Of the top 10 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings eight advanced to the finals: OSU (1), Georgia (2), Georgia Tech (3), UNLV (4), New Mexico (5), Florida (6), Augusta State (7) and Duke (9). UNLV (West), Augusta State (Central) and Wake Forest (East) won regional titles. The two top-10 teams who failed to advance were No. 6 Auburn (West ) and No. 10 TCU (Central).
Augusta State, which lost by a shot to Oklahoma State the week before at The Maxwell, made amends at the Central Regional. Trailing by three shots going into the last round, the Jaguars shot a closing 1-over 281 and beat the Cowboys by nine.
“We’re playing well this time of the year, and playing with a lot of confidence,” said Augusta State coach Josh Gregory. “Everybody is really playing well and contributed all three rounds, which is good. It’s a good time of year to be playing with some confidence. We won’t be short of that (at Caves Valley).”
Of the 30 teams in the finals, 26 are ranked among the top 40, including No. 36 Coastal Carolina, which tied for eighth in the East to earn its first trip to the big show.
Yes, Oklahoma State will go in as the favorite. But as Holder and anyone else who follows college golf knows, come NCAA time it’s anybody’s game.
“We can’t look back,” Holder said. “We have to go there and play well. Being No. 1 is great, but when we get to Caves Valley the slate is wiped clean and we all start even."