After 4 wins in a row, Mizzou steps it up
It has been a common question, one that Missouri head coach Mark Leroux has heard more and more with each of the Tigers’ four victories this spring.
“Yeah, but who have they played?”
Missouri, which is a perfect 4-for-4 on the spring season after a 22-shot win April 5 at the Columbia Orthopedic Group Mizzou Intercollegiate, is not apologizing for its record. In fact, the Tigers’ schedule was designed for this exact reason.
“We have beat some teams, let me say that,” Leroux said. “Along the way, Missouri has taken down some good teams. However, softer schedule? Yeah. Especially to start the spring, but it’s getting progressively stronger. It’s almost like taking baby steps. We’re able to make sure we’re successful before we move on.”
Missouri, No. 56 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, has a head-to-head record of 108-31-1, including a 28-28-1 record against the top 100. The Tigers’ schedule had a similar look last year, as their strength of schedule was ranked lowest among at-large postseason teams.
“I think my job is to put these guys in situations where they can be successful and continue to be successful after they leave Mizzou,” Leroux said. “And going out there and playing the best teams in the country when you may be the 40th-best team just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Missouri also has won the Snowman Getaway, Jackrabbit Invitational and UALR/First Tee Classic titles this spring.
“If you look at our results, we’ve really had a mixed bag,” Leroux said. “The guys have been put in very different scenarios – playing with the lead, coming from behind – and they’ve found a way to succeed each time.”
One of the keys has been the strong play of sophomore Jace Long, who also is perfect in 2011, winning all three events he has played. Long, ranked No. 27 individually, was suspended for the first event of the spring after what Leroux called a “minor violation of team policy.”
“Although we knew he was statistically our best player, benching Jace really brought out the best in the team,” Leroux said. “They really rose to the occasion. Jace had to play his way back in, and since then he’s just never looked back.
“It really spoke volumes. I think maybe we kind of unexpectedly looked at each other and said, ‘You know, we are pretty good and we have some depth.’ ”
Missouri now has a chance to show what it has learned this spring, as the schedule toughens up. This weekend, the Tigers head to the Hawkeye Invitational to take on No. 14 Iowa before the Big 12 Championship on April 25-27, where they will see a handful of top-20 teams, including top-ranked Oklahoma State. Those two events will put the Tigers’ streak to the test.
“I hope they’re not thinking about that,” Leroux said. “It’s this tournament and (not) what you did in the past. The teams that we’re playing against don’t care. They’re saying the same thing: ‘They haven’t played anybody; wait until they play us.’ So we’d better be ready, and we’d better be focused.”
• • •
INCOMING! Stanford signee Patrick Rodgers continued his solid amateur season with a second-place finish April 10 at the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla., where he lost to Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo by one shot.
Rodgers also finished third at the Azalea Invitational and the Jones Cup, in addition to tying for second in medal play at the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
Next season, Rodgers, Golfweek’s fifth-ranked junior player, will join Stanford, which is No. 17 this year. The Cardinal also will return U.S. Amateur runner-up David Chung and sophomore Andrew Yun, who is No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Other incoming college players also fared well at the Terra Cotta, including Sean Kelly (South Carolina) and Anthony Paolucci (USC), Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, who tied for fourth; Trey Valentine (South Florida), who finished T-7; and Oliver Schneiderjans (Georgia Tech), who finished T-10.
Augusta State junior Patrick Reed also tied for fourth.
• • •
SHORT SHOTS: Wake Forest’s Lee Bedford, No. 33 in the Golfweek rankings, won the Irish Creek Collegiate by three shots for his second victory of the year. Bedford also won the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate in the fall. Building off its win at the Callaway Match Play Championship, Duke claimed the team title by seven shots and improved to No. 19 in the rankings. . . . The USC men helped keep the .500 rule at bay with a win at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational. Entering the week with a 45-46-2 record, the Trojans defeated 12 teams to improve to 57-46-2. San Diego State’s J.J. Spaun won the individual crown and became the first person since Phil Mickelson to win the event in back-to-back years. . . . The 10 semifinalists for the Ben Hogan Award include three Oklahoma State Cowboys: Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway and Peter Uihlein. Among those left off the list: Florida’s Bank Vongvanij, who has recorded three college victories this season, and Stanford’s David Chung, who won the Western Amateur and the Porter Cup last summer before finishing runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
• • •
A look ahead . . .
What: Southeastern Conference Championship
When: April 15-17
Where: Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside Course), St. Simons Island, Ga.
Why it’s important: This conference finale always is a rough-and-tumble tuneup for the NCAA postseason, and this year is no exception, with six top-15 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings (No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Florida, No. 9 Auburn, No. 10 LSU, No. 13 Georgia and No. 15 Arkansas) mixing it up along the Georgia coast.