Can you feel it?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Florida senior Billy Horschel finally got a championship ring; Oklahoma State sophomore Rickie Fowler landed his first “W” of the season; Virginia Commonwealth punched its ticket into the NCAA postseason in most-dramatic fashion; and Oklahoma State made its way back into the No. 1 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
Those were just a few of the highlights from the past week in this wild and crazy time of college golf.
• Though the Gators have not won a Southeastern Conference Championship during his stellar career, Horschel earned a title ring when he won the individual SEC crown over the weekend in St. Simons Island, Ga.
With rounds of 68-67-71 for a 10-under 206 total, Horschel won by two strokes over Mississippi State’s Carlos Sainz.
It was Horschel’s first outright individual victory since he captured the Ping/Golfweek Preview in fall 2006.
He was co-medalist at the 2006 NCAA West Regional and at the 2007 East Regional. He tied for first at this spring’s Sun Trust Gator Invitational, but lost in a playoff to teammate Toby Raglund.
In his other three SEC Championship starts, the three-time All-American and member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team tied for 16th and twice tied for seventh.
“I’m elated for Billy,” said Florida coach Buddy Alexander. “He played beautifully all week. He’s a senior and he’s worked extremely hard and he really wanted a ring. Now he’s going to get one as an individual.”
• After a rookie season in which he was national player and freshman of the year, first-team All-American and winner of the Ben Hogan Award (for his college and amateur accomplishments), a lot was expected from Fowler as a sophomore.
While he has played well enough to keep himself among the nation’s top performers, he had not notched a victory, something he did twice as a freshman, including at the Big 12 Conference Championship.
That changed over the weekend, when Fowler made a stunning comeback and won the weather-shortened Texas A&M Aggie Invitational by one shot over teammate Morgan Hoffmann.
It was a classic Fowler finish and showed what this talented young man can do under pressure.
After an opening 7-under 65, Fowler was 4 over through the first 14 holes the final day. He was behind, and he knew it.
So he dug deep and brought out his best. He birdied the 15th hole, just missed a 12-foot birdie try on the par-3 16th, and finished with birdies at 17 and 18 for a 6-under total.
Needing the final birdie to win – and with things not looking good after his tee shot went right, hit a tree and dropped down into the rough – Fowler amazed the large crowd on hand by hitting a 7-iron from 193 yards to 8 feet.
Watching from behind the green, I knew there was no way he was going to miss that putt. He drained it dead-center.
“It’s awesome to get a win,” Fowler said afterward. “It shows all the work I’ve put in the last few months is paying off. It’s definitely a big confidence boost, especially with (Big 12) conference coming up next week and then regionals.”
• With Fowler and Hoffmann, who birdied holes 14, 15 and 17 down the stretch the last round, leading the way, Oklahoma State won the Aggie Invitational by three strokes over host Texas A&M.
The victory moved the Cowboys into the top spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, just ahead of previous No. 1 Georgia, which won the SEC title.
How close are these two teams? OSU is on top with a 69.80 rating, while the Bulldogs are at 69.83.
The victory certainly was timely for the Cowboys, who were coming off their worst showing of the season, a 10th place at the U.S. Collegiate.
• And how about those Rams from Virginia Commonwealth? Down by 12 shots to Georgia State going into the final round of the Colonial Athletic Association Championship on April 19, they charged back and then claimed the title on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against the Panthers at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.
It was VCU’s eighth CAA title but first since it won seven in a row from 1996-2002. With it, the No. 64-ranked Rams landed the league’s automatic qualifier spot next month in one of the six NCAA regionals.
“There were some pretty tense moments out there,” said VCU coach Matt Ball. “Everything was on the line, but the guys were engaged and hit some great golf shots.
“I told the guys after (second round) that our ranking was where it needed to be to have a chance to get into the NCAA tournaments, but we could not lose to (William & Mary and James Madison) on Sunday,” Ball said. “I told them I knew it was a lot of pressure to have everything on the line on one day, but your attitude on the golf course will dictate your success. If you control your emotions, you’ll be fine, and they responded.”
• Northwestern coach Pat Goss has to be wondering which of his Wildcat teams will show up for the upcoming Big Ten Conference Championship.
He’s certainly hoping it’s not the one that tied for 12th in Puerto Rico or tied for 13th at Stanford’s U.S. Intercollegiate last weekend.
Rather, Goss hopes it’s the one that captured the Kepler Invitational at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course earlier this month.
Northwestern’s No. 56 ranking might appear to give the Wildcats a lock on an NCAA postseason invitation. But there’s that pesky .500 rule which requires teams to have a head-to-head record of .500 or better.
Northwestern enters the conference championship with a 62-60-2 mark. Talk about pressure!
No. 80 Purdue also will feel the heat. The Boilermakers go into the Big Ten showdown at 62-62-1 mark.
• One team that helped relieve some of its .500 pressure last weekend was defending NCAA champion UCLA.
The Bruins entered the U.S. Intercollegiate on the bubble with the tough Pac-10 Championship still to be played April 27-29. But a fifth-place showing at Stanford gave UCLA an 11-4 record for the event and moved its overall record to 65-57-2.
Now all the Bruins need is a ninth-place finish at the Pac-10 to be eligible. If they can’t accomplish that, well, maybe they don’t deserve to go. My money, however, is on UCLA playing in the regionals. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Bruins made their way to Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio, the last week in May to defend their national crown.