Balicki: Texas Tech continues success at Oak Hills

There’s something about the Oak Hills course in San Antonio that seems to bring out the best in the Texas Tech golf team – past and present.

What that something is? Well, even Red Raiders head coach Greg Sands isn’t quite sure.

“I really can’t pinpoint the reason we’ve had success there,” Sands said after Texas Tech won its fourth consecutive – and sixth since 2001 – UTSA/Oak Hills Invitational on Feb. 14. “Maybe it’s just going to a place where we feel comfortable and knowing we’ve had success there in the past.”

With a final-round-best, 1-under-par 282, the Red Raiders, who were in third place and trailing leader Oklahoma by five shots after two rounds, finished at 7-over 859 for a three-stroke win over the Sooners.

Clement Sordet, a freshman from France, led Texas Tech’s last-day charge with a 5-under 66. He tied for first at 3-under 210 before losing medalist honors to Baylor’s Joakim Mikkelsen on the third playoff hole.

Junior Finley Ewing IV contributed a closing 70, and sophomores Logan McCracken (72) and Chandler Rusk (74) also aided the winning cause.

“To get into contention and then finish it off the way they did, I’m just really proud of them,” Sands said. “This win is definitely a feather in our hat, and I feel it will give us some momentum this spring.”

The team tournament victory was Texas Tech’s first since it won at Oak Hills last spring. More importantly, it raised the Red Raiders’ overall head-to-head record above the .500 mark (36-35-1), which is needed to be considered for an NCAA postseason berth.

Sands, who guided Texas Tech to its best season in 2009-10, when the Red Raiders won an NCAA regional title and advanced to the NCAA Championship’s elite eight of match play, said “expectations going into this year were not very high, but I felt we had a good team that just needed a little time to develop.”

The Red Raiders opened the current campaign by defeating Vanderbilt, 19-13, at the Carmel Cup, a dual medal/match-play event in Pebble Beach, Calif. They followed with a fourth place at the Adams Cup in Rhode Island.

Then things went south. The Raiders finished 12th (last) at the Nicklaus Invitational and closed out the fall with a 13th-place showing at Isleworth.

“At the Nicklaus, it was just a nightmare,” Sands said. “We had one player who injured his wrist in the opening round, so we played with just four guys. Then we had another player get a four-shot penalty for having 15 clubs in his bag. And on top of it all, no one played very well.”

Texas Tech opened the spring with a tie for 10th in the 20-team field at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii, where some positives were taken away by Sands and his team.

“I know 10th doesn’t sound great, but we did beat some teams ranked higher than us and finished only three and four shots behind Oklahoma State and Arizona State,” Sands said.

With the win at Oak Hills, Sands is much more optimistic about what his Red Raiders might accomplish.

“There is no doubt in my mind this team hasn’t reached its potential yet,” he said. “I feel this team can and will continue to grow. I’m really feeling good about the direction in which we are heading.”

Next up for the Red Raiders is the Desert Invitational on Feb. 25-26 in Palm Springs, Calif. Then comes an even-bigger test – the Southern Highlands Masters in Las Vegas, where Tech will go up against one of the strongest fields of the season, including top-ranked Texas and seven other top-15 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

By then, Sands will know even more about his team.

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