College Men

World traveler: Houston's Ross in NCAA medalist hunt

University of Houston's James Ross played alongside California's Brandon Hagy in Round 3 on Monday of the NCAA Men's Division 1 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
University of Houston's James Ross played alongside California's Brandon Hagy in Round 3 on Monday of the NCAA Men's Division 1 Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Monday, May 26, 2014

HUTCHINSON, Kan. –– Houston's James Ross traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to play college golf. His first college event was in Japan. He's transferred schools. He just wrapped up his fifth year of college, graduating with a degree in liberal studies with and emphasis in French global business and economics.

"I've kind of been around the block of college golf for five years," said Ross, who played for Michigan State in 2009-11 before transferring to Houston in Fall 2011. "It's been a great ride."

Now, the Cougars senior is hoping he can wrap up his collegiate golf career with an individual title – and possibly a team match-play berth – at the NCAA Championship.

Ross rolled in what could be the last putt of his college career Monday afternoon, bogeying the par-4 18th, the only blemish in an otherwise solid third-round, 4-under 66 at Prairie Dunes Country Club. Despite dropping a shot late, Ross finished at 5-under 205 and was just one shot behind individual leader, Stanford's Cameron Wilson, who teed off in the afternoon wave Monday.

"I went in with quite an open attitude this week, just trying to see what will happen and with not much expectation on myself, just trying to enjoy it, " Ross said. "It's my last college event, so I just tried to have fun out there."

The Cougars followed Ross' lead, carding a 1-under 279 to finish 54 holes at 8-over 848, which currently puts them in solo 16th, five shots out of eighth-place UCLA.

"It was a great effort on our guys' part," Houston head coach Jonathan Dismuke said. "Unfortunately, we just maybe started a little too far back."

All 15 teams in front of Houston will play this afternoon, so if Prairie Dunes grows some more teeth and a handful of teams fall back Monday afternoon, there's a chance the Cougars could end up in the top 8 by day's end.

"Golf is a game that you never know what is going to happen," Ross said. "I'd to think we could sneak into the top 8 as a team, but we'll just going to have to wait and see."

Just don't expect Dismuke to be glued to the live-scoring app on his phone – at least not until the afternoon teams are on the back nine.

"It does you no good and it's completely addicting," Dismuke said. "You sit there and hit refresh and you're like a crazy person trying to hope for something.

"There's going to be some guys that play great this afternoon, I have no doubt. . . . Somebody's going to rise to the occasion."

Rising to the occasion for Houston this week was Ross. The Edinburgh, Scotland, native opened with an even-par 70 on Saturday – the Cougars' original first-round tee times were Friday afternoon before inclement weather pushed them back. He followed with a second-round 69, a round that stretched from Saturday afternoon and into Sunday morning.

His third round began via a shotgun start Sunday night before the fifth weather delay of the tournament forced the Monday morning finish.

"It's been a pretty tough week," Ross said. "It feels like we just left the course not long ago last night."

Ross said he expects someone to go low Monday afternoon, "getting to 9 or 10 under (for the tournament)." Of course, he would prefer the opposite. Houston, a 16-time NCAA team champion, has had eight NCAA individual medalist, but not since Billy Ray Brown in 1982 – Brown is on site at Prairie Dunes this week working for Golf Channel.

An NCAA medal and spot in the team match play would be the perfect finish for Ross. He notched four top 10s in 12 events as a junior, but then redshirted last season to focus on academics and practice his golf game.

Ross returned this season to record six top 10s in 10 starts – he also finished worse than T-27 just once. He was third on the team in scoring average, too, at 72.62.

And then there's this week, where Ross has saved arguably his best performance for last.

"I'm so glad that he's going out on a high note like this," Dismuke said. "It was a great performance by him this week. When he transferred in, he was somebody who really helped change the culture of our program and changed just the overall dynamic. He came in, worked hard and really set a (high) standard. He's great academically, (has) great personality, and obviously (has a) really good golf game." readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.