Oklahoma St. caps impressive fall under new coach
When Alan Bratton was named head men's golf coach at Oklahoma State in June, the hope was he could restore the program's status as one of the nation's elite.
So far, so good.
The Cowboys closed the fall with victories at the U.S. Collegiate and Royal Oaks Intercollegiate, adding to a pair of third-place finishes to start their first season under Bratton.
"I'm certainly pleased with our play," Bratton said. "We built momentum the whole time and as a group, we got better for sure. I'm confident enough to say each of our guys has gotten better."
Bratton replaced former coach Mike McGraw, whose contract was not renewed after eight seasons in Stillwater. McGraw helped lead Oklahoma State to five Big 12 Championship titles and the 2006 NCAA Championship, but the Cowboys failed to make match play at the 2013 NCAA Championship after missing out on the postseason finale in 2012 for the first time in 65 years.
But Bratton's familiarity with the Cowboys program – the former four-time All-American at Oklahoma State had previously served two seasons as the head women's coach and was an assistant for the men's and women's teams for seven years prior to that – has made the transition more than ideal.
"Being with the program already helped the transition for sure," senior Ian Davis said. "He was an assistant my freshman year, and some of us – Talor (Gooch), Kevin Dougherty and I – got to experience him then, so it's definitely helped."
The Cowboys, ranked fifth in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, boast one of the deepest lineups in the country. Davis, ranked No. 10 by Golfweek, leads five other players ranked inside the top 175. Wyndham Clark (No. 13), Jordan Niebrugge (No. 40), Gooch (No. 130) and Zach Olsen (No. 149) are all ranked inside the top 150.
"Having that depth, it definitely pushes the players at the top because they know they can get bumped out of the lineup easily," Davis said. "I remember when I was a freshman, we had three first-team All-Americans (Peter Uihlein, Kevin Tway and Morgan Hoffmann) on the team, so it was tough to just qualify. This year is kind of like that.
"Qualifying for tournaments is almost tougher than actually playing in the tournament."
Said Bratton: "We're blessed to have that depth. . . . The more players around you, the more it helps you develop."
That development has been especially noticeable with Clark, a sophomore who is tied with Davis for the team lead in scoring average (70.33) and top 5s (three). As a freshman, Clark logged just five rounds.
"Ian has really taken over and has been our best player this fall, but it's been exciting to see Wyndham's improvement," Bratton said. "He had a rough first year, but has played very well this fall. I think he's just scratching the surface of what kind of player he can be."
The Cowboys have six players with a scoring average of 72.77 or better this fall, and the team's sixth man at Royal Oaks, Dougherty (No. 174), won the event, which was a play-six-count-five format.
"I was really pleased that we played that format because that always makes the coach look like a fool when the sixth guy wins," Bratton quipped.
"Kevin has been here a long time, put in a lot of hard work and it was great to see him get his first victory."
While depth has keyed the Cowboys' strong start to the season, it's not the only reason for the team's big fall.
"We're believing in ourselves more," Davis said. "I wasn't surprised we had the kind of fall we had. I knew we were going to have a pretty dang good team. We're more confident now, and we're trying to do the little things right."
With the fall season in the books, Oklahoma State will turn its focus toward the break looking to continue working on the little things. By the time the spring rolls around, you can bet they'll have their sights on a few big things, as well, including an NCAA title.
"I would never put any limit on anything as far as goals are concerned," Bratton said. "But we just have to go out there and bust it every day. I don't think we're anywhere near where we can be right now. There are some good teams out there and we have a long way to go, but I like the way things have been going and we just have to keep on building."