Oklahoma State's high-octane culture still creating greatness for Cowboys

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics

Oklahoma State's high-octane culture still creating greatness for Cowboys

College

Oklahoma State's high-octane culture still creating greatness for Cowboys

There are no shortcuts at Oklahoma State.

To be a productive member of the men’s golf team, you’re going to work hard and you’re going to show respect. And if you step out of line, don’t expect leniency.

“You go there as a boy, 100 percent, and you leave a man,” said Trent Leon, who played for the Cowboys from 2005-09.

That mentality is still producing winners. Oklahoma State earned its 11th national title Wednesday, trouncing Alabama, 5-0, as hosts at Karsten Creek Golf Club. It was the Cowboys’ 10th win of the season and solidified the 2017-18 group in the discussion of the best teams in the history of college golf.

Present all week to see it unfold was Mike Holder. Oklahoma State’s athletic director was once the school’s men’s golf coach. He is a legendary figure in the sport, building a powerhouse in Stillwater with eight national titles in his 32-year run (1973-2005).

But even as he watched, Holder let the team run on its own. After all, he has the capable Alan Bratton, one of Holder’s former players, as head coach. And Holder’s own coaching days are done.

Current players have noted that Holder tends to leave the squad be when it’s performing well, in order to not mess with its mojo. When that standard slips, he may come out and let them know about it.

The Cowboys won seven straight tournaments at one point this season, and then stumbled a bit late in the spring with a fourth at the ASU/Thunderbird Invitational and a runner-up at the Big 12 Championship.

“I was definitely expecting him to show up in the lunch room one day and give us an earful,” said senior Sam Stevens.

Holder, trusting this season’s group, never did.

Oklahoma State celebrates its 2018 national title. (Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics)

The AD may stand more in the background when it comes to the team he formerly helmed, but don’t take that to mean his influence isn’t still felt.

Holder’s fingerprints remain all over the program.

He was once described by Golf Digest during his coaching days as “the most feared man in college golf,” and Holder instilled fierce discipline into his squad.

“We suffered a lot with Coach Holder,” said Chris Tidland, laughing.

Tidland, who played for Oklahoma State from 1991-95, noted that Holder was a master at getting his players to understand that the little things mattered. Punctuality was a given, and Holder made a point on matters as seemingly minor as turning a light off when one leaves a room.

Every little detail was important.

“If you forgot an umbrella, I don’t care if you only had $500 to your name, you go spend $500 on an umbrella because you do NOT want to tell Holder,” Leon said.

Be out of line, and Holder would let you know.

Leon was at Karsten Creek one time his freshman year and forgot something in his locker. So he left his golf bag in the middle of a sidewalk next to the clubhouse as he went inside to retrieve the forgotten item.

Leon returned and found his clubs dumped all over the grass and his bag tossed to the side by Holder, who was pointing at him with his index finger. Holder, upset at Leon for placing his bag right in the way where others might be walking, put his index finger in the freshman’s chest and sternly commented, You think you’re the most important person out here?

“I never put (my bag) there again, I can tell you that,” Leon said.

It’s a practice the Cowboys still follow. One of Bratton’s most important edicts at tournaments is for his players post-round to carefully place their bags out of people’s paths.

Attention to detail remains a must.

“(Bratton’s message is), we’re just trying to achieve for a higher standard,” said junior Zach Bauchou. “And we’re all really thankful for that higher standard.”

Bauchou forgot a team shirt (uniform) for the Querencia Cabo Collegiate this spring and tied for 53rd at the event. Bratton leveled with Bauchou but reminded his pupil that success is in the details.

“He’s like, ‘Look, you finished 53rd this week and I know it’s not because you forgot your shirt. But you didn’t have the right shirt,’ ” Bauchou said.

Tidland sees plenty of Holder in his best friend and former roommate/teammate.

Bratton doesn’t coach with as firm a hand as Holder did, but he’s certainly no pushover. He takes a similar no-nonsense approach and does not dole out praise lightly, for maximum effect.

“If you get a compliment from Alan, just like with Coach Holder, it really means something,” Tidland said.

Mike Holder and Viktor Hovland share a moment after Oklahoma State wins the 2018 NCAA Championship. (Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics)

Bratton has also continued a longtime Oklahoma State tradition at ensuring excellence: “The Gauntlet.”

A punishment system in a college golf program is nothing new, but the Cowboys’ main method is brutally effective.

The Gauntlet is a decades-old early-morning punishment workout at Oklahoma State in which a player must go on a StairMaster at a high speed (think level 16 or higher out of 20) for however long coaches say. It could be 30 minutes, 45, heck, it’s been known to go up to 80 minutes.

And players don’t dare find out what happens if they stop before coaches say the workout is over.

Talor Gooch, who played for Oklahoma State from 2010-14, described the Gauntlet as “a piece of hell on Earth.”

“You quickly realize you don’t want to do it again,” added sophomore Viktor Hovland.

Oklahoma State legend has it that Leon once had to go to the bathroom so bad during a Gauntlet (and knew he couldn’t stop the workout) that he, uhh, soiled himself and continued on.

Leon chuckled as he clarified the story has been embellished over the years. As Leon recalls, he was in the midst of an 80-minute Gauntlet when it became clear he needed to use the bathroom.

When he informed coaches present that he may go right there while on the machine if he had to continue, they shot back: Well, you can do that. But you’re not getting off.

Leon did hold on through the end, for the record.

Bratton noted every member on the current squad has been dealt a Gauntlet – which can be given for any seemingly minor infraction – but that overall it hasn’t been used much with this determined and well-behaved group.

The lessons live on from golfers’ time at Oklahoma State. To this day, Tidland sets his watch six minutes fast because that’s “Holder Time” and it keeps everyone punctual.

Former Cowboys players are renowned for retaining a strong bond with the program long after they leave. Tidland is no different. He remains based in Stillwater with his wife and children, and has played with the team a good deal this season. When foreign players are unable to go home for holidays, Tidland happily opens his door to them.

Even if at times coaches could be tough, players tend to leave  appreciating what they did for them.

Simply, there are few spots in college golf like Oklahoma State.

“It’s just a special place,” Tidland said.

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