2006: Teams take aim at ‘Dogs
When you are No. 1 everyone is gunning for you.
That seems to be the way it is in just about every phase of our world today – certainly when it comes to sports.
Welcome to the world of the University of Georgia men’s golf team.
The Bulldogs donned the target jersey before the first tee shot of the current season was ever struck when the defending NCAA champions were named Golfweek’s preseason No. 1.
And they have worn it since, starting with a season-opening victory at the Golfweek/Ping Preview and finishing out the fall campaign with a second-place finish at the
Jerry Pate and another victory at Isleworth.
The spring season delivered three more titles, including a Southeastern Conference championship, and included a second at the NCAA East regional last week.
Still clinging to that No. 1 spot, Georgia no doubt will be the targeted team when it attempts to become the first school to win back-to-back NCAA titles since Houston (1984-85) at the May 31-June 3 NCAA Championship over the Crosswater course at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort.
No matter the success, all Georgia coach Chris Haack has to do is look back to the 2000-01 season to avoid becoming overconfident.
(Georgia finished fifth at the 2001 NCAAs.)
“We won the Preview in the fall and came back to the Duke course ranked No. 1, where we had been all year,” Haack said. “We had such a good team and were winning big. Everyone was asking me not if we were going to win, but by how many we were going to win by. We kind of got ahead of ourselves and that certainly taught me a lesson.
“Going to Sunriver, I’ll definitely stress on our guys that there are no guarantees. There are a lot of good teams out there and to win a national championship you not only have to be playing your best, you have to have a little luck as well. But anything short of being in contention coming down the last day is going to be a disappointment.”
Should the Bulldogs stumble – as they did earlier this spring when they tied for eighth at the Hall of Fame Invitational – there will be plenty of other teams ready to step up and take control.
Central region champion Oklahoma State, led by Pablo Martin, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, has not finished out of the top five all season. The Cowboys are ranked No. 2.
No. 3 Florida, paced by recent Hogan Award winner Matt Every, also has a quartet of victories, including a tie for first at the West regional.
“We haven’t played out at Sunriver, but there
is kind of an excitement in the unknown,” said Florida coach Buddy Alexander. “I’m sure it’s a good golf course, and I think a lot will depend on the weather. I certainly don’t think this (tie for first in West regional) will hurt our confidence.”
Alexander also cited the 2001 NCAA Championship at Duke.
Similar to this fall, Florida did not play in the Golfweek/Ping Preview that year, but went on to win the national title.
No. 4 Georgia Tech struggled midway through the spring season, but came back and tied for first at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.
No. 5 UCLA has won six times, including late spring victories at the National Invitation, U.S. Intercollegiate and Pac-10 Conference Championship.
“Last year (at NCAA) we finished last and that has been very motivational for us this season,” said UCLA coach O.D. Vincent, whose Bruins struggled but managed a seventh-place finish at the East regional.
“In my coaching career, three times I’ve finished last (at NCAA). I’ve had experiences all over the map. Hopefully one of these days I’ll know what it’s like to finish first.”
A host of other teams have also shown they have what it takes to depart Oregon with the NCAA trophy.
There are 15 to 20 teams that have the potential to win it all, which should make for quite an exciting shootout at Sunriver.
Although the Bulldog bull’s-eye looms large, it won’t be an easy target to hit.
– Lance Ringler and Rex Hoggard contributed