Texas takes road less traveled into postseason
It was a long time coming for the Texas Longhorns when they seized the Big 12 Championship trophy April 27.
It wasn't the conference championship – Texas came out on top for the second straight year – rather a return to the school's winning ways. Head coach John Fields brought in two of the nation's top freshmen in Beau Hossler and Gavin Hall to complement his Big 12 Championship team, and the Longhorns failed to pick up a win in 10 tries this season. Until the Big 12 tournament, of course.
But Fields saw what some would call a slump as a bout of adversity – something his young team would have to overcome while competing with the nation's toughest schedule, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
Fields said that expectations were high heading into the season, but a "traumatic" right wrist injury to junior Kramer Hickok in the fall threw a wrench in his plans.
"Essentially, it put us off balance for the entire first semester," Fields said. "It gave our freshmen a lot of responsibility and it also created some opportunity at the back end of our team. But . . . we're just now getting to the point of what we thought we might be able to do at the beginning of the year."
Through the injuries and adversity, Fields sticks to his guns when it comes to scheduling tournaments. He wants the biggest and the best teams each time out.
"It's not just the teams that you are playing against, it's the golf courses that you're playing on," Fields said. "Whether it's Isleworth, Olympia Fields, Pasatiempo, those kind of golf courses and the fields we play dictate that there needs to be a lot of patience.
"It's not an easy transition. You're playing on great golf courses against great fields against teams that have guys that have played those golf courses multiple times, so there's a built-in advantage there. That's why you like to have juniors and seniors that are seasoned veterans over time on your team. Essentially, we didn't have that. There's a learning curve there."
The Longhorns' schedule is no accident. Fields and his coaching staff are proud of owning the toughest schedule in the country, and it could pay off.
Since the .500 rule – which states that a team must have a .500 or better head-to-head won-loss record against Division I opponents to qualify for the NCAA Tournament – was implemented in 2007-08, four of the six national champions have held a top-10 strength of schedule according to the Golfweek's rankings. That list includes last year's champion Alabama, which owned the hardest schedule in the nation.
But this trend reaches beyond 2008. Six of the 10 national champions since 2004 have played one of the country's 10-hardest schedules – Alabama (2013), Texas (2012), Augusta State (2011), UCLA (2008), Oklahoma State (2006) and Georgia (2005).
"In today's world, what we do is dangerous because of the 50-percent rule," Fields said. "There's a lot of good that comes from the 50-percent rule. The bad part is that you have a lot of teams that shy away from the great golf courses and the tremendous fields. Or they may only play in one or two of those annually.
"My thought is contrary to that and it's that we want to play against the best teams on a normal basis on the best golf courses with the strongest field. I think, in the end, that gives you the best opportunity to be educated going into the postseason."
Fields said there was some frustration on his team throughout the season as it worked to hit its stride. The team finished runner up three times, but could not take home a trophy.
"Yeah, there was frustration, because we envisioned our team to be one way and we had to be patient," Fields said. "But that's what makes you significantly proud of your team when they're able to win a Big 12 Championship over teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Iowa State and TCU. I'm really proud of our guys for overcoming some of these obstacles, being patient and overcoming the frustration."
Now, the Longhorns have to make it through finals week and the Auburn regional, where they will compete against the likes of Alabama, Virginia Tech and the host school. But Fields is optimistic.
"All season long, based on our schedule, we're looking forward to being ready for the postseason," Fields said. "Right now, we are. So our practices and our thoughts will be predicated on giving ourselves the best opportunity to compete. I'm happy that our guys are coming on right now. This is kind of what you envision."