Friday, May 1, 2009
It’s easy to overlook a team like Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. They typically don’t play golf in May.
When head coach Carol Blackmar pushed her team’s annual fundraiser back from February to the week after the Southland Conference Championship, it seemed like a rally killer. The Islanders had never won the conference title. Who wants to host a pep rally after a losing game?
As it turned out, Blackmar looked brilliant when she gathered community supporters together April 29 for a schmoozefest. The Islanders won April 22, nipping UTSA by one stroke to earn their first trip to NCAA Division I Regional action. Blackmar’s husband, Phil, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and volunteer assistant coach, whipped up dinner for 80. The featured dish: hot and crunchy drum with a mango and jalapeno aioli.
“We might just keep it (on this date),” said a superstitious Carol Blackmar, hours before the festivities were set to begin.
The main focus of NCAA Regional play is to crack the top eight. Few would expect Corpus Christi to be among those who advance to the Big Dance. The Islanders will join the likes of top-ranked Arizona State, which also happens to be tournament host, and No. 3 USC May 7-9 at the West Regional.
Low expectations, however, shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of 107th-ranked Corpus-Christi. While the everyday hooplah centers around the rise and fall of an elite group of schools, teams like Blackmar’s simply hope for the chance to tee it up.
The Islanders will get that opportunity in Tempe, Ariz., and their nerves will be kicking. Corpus-Christi hasn’t met a team ranked inside the top 50 all season. Next week they will meet 17 of them.
“They’re going to feel overwhelmed,” said Phil Blackmar, who currently competes on the Champions Tour. “The ones who are successful aren’t afraid to be nervous. They understand how their bodies react.”
The Blackmars speak from experience. They met on the putting green at Morris Williams Golf Course in the fall of 1976. Both played golf at the University of Texas.
Make no mistake, this is Carol Blackmar’s team. She took over in December 2002 and has won the Corpus Christi City Championship eight times. Carol calls on her husband for help with swing analysis, and Phil’s only road trips this year will be for conference and regional action. His 6-foot-7-inch frame stays in the background for the most part, but it doesn’t hurt these players to hear advice from a man who has done everything from drive a Coca-Cola truck to audit banks to win PGA Tour titles.
Phil Blackmar’s claim to fame is that all three of his PGA Tour titles came from birdieing the first hole of a playoff. Call him Mr. Clutch.
Perhaps that mojo rubbed off on Courtney Peeler, the junior who sank a testy 3-footer for birdie on the last hole to give her team the victory. UTSA’s Allie Jordan, also playing in the final group, won the individual title but suffered a double-bogey on the 18th to relinquish her team’s two-shot lead.
“They were a little bit in shock,” said Carol Blackmar of her team’s reaction.
Peeler’s final-hole heroics are even more impressive when you hear how she started the round: triple-bogey-bogey-double. That’s enough for anyone to pack it in.
Instead, Peeler peeled off three consecutive birdies on Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
“We needed her,” Blackmar said.
And Peeler delivered.
That’s something worth talking about.