2005: Sweet sounds for Catamounts

Sometimes Western Carolina coach Gorham Bradley simply stands on the range and listens. The sound he hears coming off Matt Cook’s clubface when ball meets iron is unlike anything heard around these parts in recent memory.

It’s almost like the sound of a broken record.

Cook’s 70.83 scoring average this fall is a program best by three strokes. The sophomore also has played a pivotal role in new 18-hole (280) and 54-hole (845) team records to go along with seven top-10 showings, three titles and a playoff loss in 10 college events.

“He doesn’t mis-hit many shots. His ball flies a little bit differently than everybody else’s,” said Bradley. “I smile sometimes when I just watch him hit.”

Over on the women’s side, coach Steve Lott hasn’t stopped smiling since August. The Catamounts won their first three events to kickstart an unprecedented season. The Western women set single-round (284) and 36-hole (576) team scoring records and also boast three individual titles.

In 1995, before Lott came aboard, the program filled out its roster by hanging fliers around the Cullowhee, N.C., campus that read “Golfers wanted. No experience required, scholarships available.”

For Lott, in his seventh year at Western, the stigma of “not being very good” seems to have finally worn off. After his team’s season-opening trifecta, Lott’s mailbox overflowed with letters from possible recruits.

And the excitement level in the team van reached new decibels. “It will drive you crazy,” said Lott of his team’s nonstop chatter. “But it’s pretty exciting to see that instead of glum faces for five hours because they stunk it up.”

Senior Ashley Hovda, an Ohio native who moved to the Smoky Mountains to escape cornfields, posted an impressive string of numbers (68-70-68-66-66) this fall to go along with two victories.

Hovda and classmate Brandy Andersen together have amassed eight individual titles and remain the driving force behind 10 team victories for the Catamounts. Prior to their potent 1-2 punch, the program had won only three titles.

“When you think about the program and what we’ve done, we came in and basically raised the standards,” said Hovda. “It wasn’t acceptable to shoot in the 80s anymore.”

Before Cook came to Cullowhee in January, only one Western starter on the men’s side averaged under 75. This semester, Cook’s subpar scoring record is complemented by four other averages under 74.75.

“We’ve broken almost every record in our record book in the last six months,” said Bradley. “They’re all kind of feeding off what Matt’s doing.”

Senior Blake Wray and junior Tripp Morrow have stepped up their games this fall, but a team title still has eluded the Catamounts. Despite going 2-for-2 to start the season, Cook hasn’t putted particularly well yet. The Murphy, N.C., native is hoping to change that Nov. 7-8 at the Catamounts’ WCU Intercollegiate, where Cook is eager to match up against Alabama-Birmingham’s Garrett Osborn, ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Cook is No. 283.

“I know what it takes to finish high,” Cook said. “I feel like I can play with anybody in the nation.”

To Bradley, that also sounds pretty good.

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