Golf wins Southland Conference Golf Championship
April 27, 2011
by Art Garcia - Special to utamavs.com
Forth Worth, Tex. - A relieved Jay Rees rolled up behind the 18th green to watch Wes Worster finish the last hole of the 2011 Southland Conference Men's Golf Championship and exhaled, "Finally, finally."
At that point, Worster finishing with a birdie was academic. The Mavericks, taking Rees' yearlong coaching mantra to heart, finished strong Wednesday and ran away with the program's fourth-ever conference title with a three-day score of 2-under 862 at Waterchase Golf Course.
UTA's ending kick resulted in a 10-shot win over Lamar. Last year's SLC champ Southeastern Louisiana started the day one stroke behind the Mavericks and took the lead late in final round before faltering down the stretch and placing third.
But there wasn't much any other school could do against UTA, which finished the last three holes as a team at 5-under. The four Mavericks who scored Wednesday -- Worster, Zach Fischer, Paul McConnell and Carson Kallis -- each birdied No. 18.
"Everybody contributed," said Rees, who won his second SLC title in 12 years as UTA's coach. "It's not easy. There are a lot of good players in this field. The conference gets better every year. There are five or six teams in the top 100 of the nation, so to be able to come out on top is really an accomplishment. The bottom line is all the guys did a great job."
The four guys waiting on the last hole rushed down to the green to congratulate each other after Worster sank his putt and finished tied for third. Hugs and handshakes started the celebration. A number of UTA coaches and athletes from other sports were also around the 18th to take part, including members of the men's basketball team wearing blazers over their shorts. (The blazers were a nod to sophomore golfer Hunter Brown, who leads a group donning the same attire at UTA basketball games.)
The Mavericks hadn't won a men's golf conference crown since 2005.
"Best feeling I've had in three years with these guys," said Fischer, a senior who finished tied for fifth. "It's unbelievable that we can bring in all these freshmen and win a championship. I couldn't be more proud of everybody. I'm proud of myself, too. It's a great feeling. I don't know the words to explain. It's amazing."
UTA held as much as a seven-shot lead at one point Wednesday before Southeastern Louisiana mounted a charge to pull ahead. With the tournament hanging in the balance, the Mavericks were reminded of one of Rees' track-like motivational tactics.
"We really had to dig deep," said Kallis, a freshman whose key final-round even-par 72 left him tied for 31st. "I think we were one or two down after 14 holes, but Coach has been talking all year about running through the finish line and finishing strong. We did that."
Rees and assistant coach Stuart Powell did their best to make sure each of the Mavericks stayed calm and confident.
"I went to each one of them and told them the situation," Rees said. "I told them if we finish strong we can do this. They finished like a champion."
Again, the home-course edge came in handy late in the round. Waterchase is the Mavericks' home course.
"It was all on the last three holes," said McConnell, a sophomore transfer who placed eighth. "We know this golf course. We know these pins because we play them every day. If we just stay calm, we know we can win."
The Mavericks won three times this year, the most in Rees' tenure. The 10-stroke margin of victory is the ninth-largest in school history in any event and third-best in a conference tournament. Only the 2005 SLC champions had a better three overall score with an 861.
All five of the Mavericks scored during the tournament. Worster, Fischer and McConnell scored all three days. Brown was part of the top four the first two days, with Kallis getting in on the act Wednesday.
"It's awesome right now," said Hunter, a sophomore who finished 20th. "It's great for the team. We worked real hard this year with this goal in mind from the very first day and it's great to make it happen after all that time. Everybody really pulled through today."
Worster, a senior, began the final day one shot off the lead. His 2-under total of 214 ties for the fifth-best in a conference tourney in school history. (Fischer's 215 tied for seventh.) Worster and the Mavericks now set their sites for the NCAA Regionals, which will be May 16-19 at a site to be determined.
"My main goal today was to win it, but it's awesome that we won the tournament," Worster said. "That's been our goal since the beginning of the year and now that we've pulled that off, we want to set new goals in regionals. We have a great bunch of guys and feel like we've bonded real good together. We're looking forward to the regional tournament."
Rees choked up some when asked about the Mavericks bringing home the SLC trophy.
"The plan came to fruition," he said. "The greatest plan in the world doesn't matter if you don't execute. But they did execute the plan. You're talking 850, 860 shots and it comes down to the last hole. That's crazy, but that's college golf and I'm thankful this time we came out on the good side."