‘Wrong Ron’ makes his NCAA picks

Hole No. 9 at the Honors Course during the 2010 NCAA Men's Championship, in Ooletewah, Tenn.
Hole No. 9 at the Honors Course during the 2010 NCAA Men's Championship, in Ooletewah, Tenn. ( Golfweek photo illustration )

Monday, May 30, 2011

Who is going to win this year’s men’s Division I NCAA Championship?

The obvious choice would undoubtedly be Oklahoma State.

But there’s this little voice I hear deep down inside of me that says maybe not. It whispers names like Georgia Tech, UCLA, Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M or Augusta State. All these – and maybe a few more – would be worthy selections.

• Georgia Tech has had a solid season with nine top-5 showings, including a dominant victory at the U.S. Collegiate Championship, another Atlantic Coast Conference title, and a second at the East Regional, which the Yellow Jackets led through 36 holes.

• UCLA has not finished out of the top 5 all season long, has four wins – including the West Regional – and placed second at the Ping/Golfweek Preview and USCC.

• Alabama has placed in the top 4 in every one of its stroke play tournaments and has four victories, including big wins at Isleworth and Puerto Rico.

• Florida comes in on a roll with wins at the Southeastern Conference Championship and Southeast Regional to go along with four other first-place finishes.

• Texas A&M has not finished out of the top 5 in any of its stroke play events and the 2009 NCAA champion also comes in on a high with a win at the Aggie Invitational and second-place showings at the Big 12 and Southwest Regional.

• And, with everyone back from last season’s NCAA title-winning team, Augusta State certainly has what it takes to become the first team since Houston (1984-85) to successfully defend its national crown.

Good choices all, that’s for sure.

But then I hear this other voice inside of me – and this one is screaming at the top of its lungs.

“Are you completely and totally insane?” it yells. “How can you not pick the orange and black of Oklahoma State?”

How indeed, I have to admit.

I mean, over the past 25-plus years I’ve seen a lot of very good – great in some instances – Cowboy teams and I’d have to say the 2010-11 edition ranks right up there with the best of them.

Oklahoma State enters the season’s grand finale No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, a position it has held much of the season. The Cowboys have won eight times, including four of their last five starts. They are fresh off victories at the Big 12 (by 13 shots over Texas A&M and 21 over Texas) and the South Central Regional (18 shots better than second-place Colorado State).

The Cowboys also have a pair of second-place showings and one third. Their worst finish of the season was a tie for fifth at Isleworth – where they played without Hogan award winner Peter Uihlein, who was competing in the World Amateur Team Championship. Their won-loss record versus top 25 teams is 59-8-1; vs. top 50, 105-8-2; vs. top 100, 133-8-2; and overall, 147-8-2.

Talk about dominating – that certainly has been the case for this group out of Stillwater.

And what a group it is. Peter Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, is No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Kevin Tway, one of the three Hogan Award finalists who won the South Central Regional and was second at the Big 12, is No. 3, while Big 12 champ Morgan Hoffmann is No. 12.

Coach Mike McGraw’s Nos. 4 and 5 spots have not been too shabby, either. Drew Page ranks 88th, Sean Einhaus, 103 and Talor Gooch, 106. It was Gooch (3rd) and Einhas (4th) that really helped the Cowboys in their impressive regional victory.

Oh, and did I mention the NCAA finals are taking place (May 31-June 5) at Karsten Creek Golf Club, which just happens to be Oklahoma State’s home course? What a huge advantage as this is a course where patience and local knowledge will play a huge role in determining who emerges at the champion.

How good are the Cowboys playing Karsten Creek? Last fall, with Uihlein tying for second and Tway finishing fifth, they won the Ping/Golfweek Preview on this layout with a 14-over 878 total. UCLA (18 over) was second, Georgia (19 over) was third and Texas A&M and Augusta State (23 over) tied for fourth.

Karsten Creek was the site for the 2009 Central Regional tournament and Oklahoma State won that by 22 shots over Arkansas with Tway finishing first, Uihlein second and Hoffmann 13th.

The Cowboys also are on a mission this time around. The last two years the NCAA champion has been determined using a stroke play/match play format, where after 54 holes of stroke play the top eight teams advance into the match play bracket.

Both times Oklahoma State has finished at the top after stroke play. In 2009 it lost its first round match – in a down-to-the-wire thriller – to Georgia, and last year the Cowboys lost in the title match against Augusta State.

It certainly would appear that the Cowboys are ready to combine both ends of the format and come away with the school’s 11th national golf championship and second under McGraw.

Over the years I’ve picked the Cowboys to win going into the finals numerous times. Only once have they won it when I picked them, that coming in 1995 when they beat Stanford in a playoff at Ohio State’s Scarlet course.

The way I look at it, Okie State owes me.

Nevermind the fact that I don’t usually pick the winner correctly – hence the “Wrong Ron” label. Still, the last one I did get right came at Karsten Creek. That’s when I went with Clemson to win it all and the Tigers came through, beating the host Cowboys by two strokes and coming down to the 72nd and final hole.

So now it’s decision time. Do I listen to that little voice in me or the one using a bull horn and blasting my ears and brain and sending color flashes of orange and black in my eyes?

In this case big voice overpowers little voice and the Wrong Ron pick to win the 2011 NCAA Championship is Oklahoma State.

While coach McGraw and his players are probably screaming “Oh, no!” there are 29 other teams probably thanking me.

But if any team can overcome the “Wrong Ron” jinx, it’s this band of high-riding, straight-shooting Cowboys.

And, like I previously mentioned, they owe me.