Oklahoma teams play and pray for tornado victims
PHOTOS: NCAA Championship (Round 1)
View images from Round 1 of the 2013 NCAA Championship at Capital City Club Crabapple Course near Atlanta, GA.
MILTON, Ga. –– Two miles.
That’s a number that’s been heavy on Oklahoma State junior Talor Gooch’s heart since a tornado touched down in Moore, Okla., last Monday. Part of a storm that produced several tornadoes around the state, the Moore tornado killed 24 people and damaged and destroyed thousands of homes.
“The tornado picked up about two miles from my house,” said Gooch, who is from Midwest City, Okla., about 10 miles northeast of Moore.
Gooch and his teammates were at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., practicing for this week’s NCAA Championship when the Moore tornado hit. He immediately called his father and sister, who were at home and had to take cover in a storm shelter. One friend lost a home. Another will have to rebuild part of one.
“It’s so devastating; it’s so sad,” Gooch said after Oklahoma State posted a 1-under 279 in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
“I can’t necessarily donate a lot of money, but maybe helping out by bringing spirits up, playing some good golf and showing some people back home some good in life right now (will help).
“It’s awesome that we’re able to play for them and kind of represent (Oklahoma).”
Oklahoma State players, coaches and fans wore a blue ribbon on their hats Tuesday at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course to show their support for those affected by the tornadoes back home. The Oklahoma Sooners, who are also in the field, donned blue ribbons, as well.
“It’s always on the minds of our guys,” Oklahoma coach Ryan Hybl said after the Sooners posted a 2-under 278. “We’re constantly talking about it. We’re thinking about them and praying for those guys (back home).”
Oklahoma senior Will Kropp and the rest of the Sooners team were on campus in Norman, Okla., just 10 miles south of Moore, during the storm. Kropp’s girlfriend’s family lives in Moore. Their home, less than a mile from the destruction, was spared.
“This hits close to home pretty hard, especially driving through there and seeing all of it,” Kropp said. “It’s pretty sad.”
Hybl said his team was in constant communication last Monday as they followed the track of the storm. A day earlier, another tornado struck about a mile east of Norman, so they were prepared to take shelter under Oklahoma’s football stadium.
Luckily, they never had to.
“We knew exactly where it was at the time when it rolled through,” Hybl said. “But it’s just scary when you have that big of a storm coming through and you have all the weather guys basically saying if you’re not underground you could lose your life. That’s a pretty sobering moment.”
But as Hybl said, “the great thing about Oklahomans is that they help out.” So that’s what he and his team did. They volunteered last Friday at Journey Church in Norman.
“There were so many people there helping out,” Oklahoma senior Abe Ancer said. “There were semis coming in with water and supplies, and we were moving around pallets of water, drinks, diapers, just doing what ever we could.”
Like members of Oklahoma’s team, Gooch and his teammates wanted to help out with the cleanup in Moore, but with city officials blocking off roads into Moore for safety, they were unable to.
“A couple days later we were going to go down there as a team,” Oklahoma State junior Ian Davis said. “But we couldn’t do anything.”
Said Kropp: “The whole team was itching to go there and help.”
Gooch traveled to Dallas to prepare for his U.S. Open sectional qualifier and passed Moore on I-35 – “there was probably 100 TV stations (on the side of the road),” Gooch said. “It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
There’s no doubt the events of last week in Moore have had an effect on both the Cowboys and Sooners. Hybl said his team planned on playing golf last Tuesday before deciding not to in wake of the tornado.
But everyone knew they still had to stay focused on golf.
“After that I told them, ‘Hey, life has to move on for us. We have to continue to work,’” Hybl said. “But that’s why we wanted to make sure that we were still helping out. . . . We still had to get our minds right because we were getting ready to make the trip (to Georgia).”
Said Gooch: “We’ve been working for this (the NCAA Championship) for a few months now, so it was pretty easy to get back on track and focus. But for a couple days it hit us close to home.”
If anything, the devastation has given the players extra motivation. A common theme talking to the players was that they want to play well for the victims and everyone affected
And on Tuesday, they accomplished that goal. Ancer shot 5-under 65 as Oklahoma posted the second-best round of the morning groups. Gooch and David each shot 67 for the Cowboys.
They’ve also gained a new perspective.
“All those people down in Moore don’t have houses now,” Davis said, “and it kind of helps you remember that this is just a game and we could be in a lot worse spot.”
Said Ancer: “Being so close to the devastation, it was eye-opening. . . . We’re just praying for everyone.”