Golf prepares for NCAA Regional
May 10, 2011
By Art Garcia for UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Tex. - UT Arlington enjoyed the home-course advantage throughout the 2011 Southland Conference Men's Golf Championship and took home the title in rousing fashion. Heading the NCAA Regionals in Arizona, the Mavericks hope to feel at home again.
And feel the heat.
"Being in a hot-climate state like Texas," UTA coach Jay Rees said, "any time you have a chance to continue to play in hot weather at this time of you, I think it's an advantage."
The five-man Mavericks squad of Zach Fischer, Wes Worster, Paul McConnell, Hunter Brown and Carson Kallis took advantage of their local knowledge of Waterchase Golf Course to win UTA's first conference title since 2005. Rees coached in Arizona early in his career and plans to use that know-how as the 12th-seeded Mavericks prepare this week for the regional tournament at Tucson National.
The tournament runs Friday-Monday, and includes (in order of seeding) Texas A&M, San Diego State, Texas Tech, California, Liberty, Washington, Pepperdine, Oregon State, Purdue, UC Davis, Arizona, Loyola (Maryland) and Army. The top five schools advance to the NCAA Championships. Rees expects Tucson National to have generous driving areas, as is customary in Arizona, and be well-manicured. The fairways, he added, should also have plenty in common with the tracts in the Lone Star State.
"I personally believe the weather and playing the tighter lies we're used to down here in Texas is a good thing for us," Rees said. "If we want to have a great week, we've still got to stick to our plan, which is to play the par-5s consistently competitive, minimize our mistakes to nothing more than a bogey.
"If we do that we're going to be competitive and move up near the top. It doesn't matter where we're playing. That plan is always in place, but as it relates to climate and being used to the tighter lies, I'm assuming there's not a lot of rough because of the heat they've had, it could be an advantage for us if we're able to implement our plan."
The Mavericks are in this position after a remarkable finish to the SLC tournament. UTA led after each of the first two days, but fell behind Southeastern Louisiana on the back 9 of the third day. A pep talk from Rees going into the final few holes jumpstarted a run of birdies that culminated in a 10-shot victory.
"Every round they finished competitively and the final round we finished great, meaning we didn't drop shots," Rees said. "Our drops were minimal and on the final day playing the last three holes after I made them aware of the situation and that it could go either way, 'If we finish strong, we can do this.' From that point on they played 5-under-par and didn't make another bogey.
"Did the words help them to focus or give them hope to believe it's still out there? Maybe a little bit of both, I don't know. The bottom line is I tried to keep it simple and let them know that you still have a chance to earn this championship if you finish strong. That's something I'm extremely proud of and I will always remember from this team."
Another lasting impression of this team is its chemistry. Rees said when you're dealing with such a small group, unlike sports such as football and baseball, is important for every athlete to be on the same page and working towards the same goal. These Mavericks have done that better than most during Rees' 12-year run at UTA.
"This group of guys played hard for each other and worked for each other," he said. "I've had more talented groups, and I've said this before, but this may be the best group of guys I've had in terms of chemistry and in terms of wanting to work hard for each other.
"I've had guys with more individual talent, but we couldn't accomplish a championship because at the end of the day it was too much about the individual and not enough about the family. That's something that I'll never forget."
But the memories are hopefully far from over. Fischer, the top player in the SLC throughout the year, and Worster head to Tucson with an eye on finishing high on the leaderboard. McConnell can also make a run if his game falls into place.
Fischer and Worster both earned all-conference honors, though Rees believes a slight to UTA's senior leader has left a sizable chip on his shoulder. Fischer, whose stroke average of 72.58 paced the Mavericks, didn't claim SLC Player of the Year honors.
"If the vote went in before the conference tournament, the bottom line is he's the No. 1 ranked player and should have been Player of the Year," Rees said. "He still believes he has something to prove. Wes Worster has come close to winning now three or four times. I still believe if he has a good putting week he can win, and I feel the same way with Paul. He's a consistent ball striker and if he continues to improve with his putting and chipping, I believe he can get to the top as well.
"All three of those guys have the ability with a good putting week to win the tournament. And the other guys continue to get better, continue to grind it out every day, continue to gain confidence by getting more reps in, so they're doing their part to minimize mistakes, make good decisions and contribute to the team score."
The Mavericks are headed west looking to make some noise.
"We want to set new goals in regionals," Worster said after the SLC tourney. "We have a great bunch of guys and feel like we've bonded real good together. We're looking forward to the regional tournament."
Five years ago, the Mavericks were just happy to be in the regionals. They went to Stanford and didn't compete, and that lesson has stuck with Rees ever since. His game plan for this week isn't any different than the first event of the year back in September.
"The goal every day will be simple, the low round of the day, that doesn't change," Rees said. "The same verbiage, it's another tournament, it's another opportunity. If we make the goals happen, we'll get another opportunity.
"I feel like I've developed and evolved in my coaching style, and feel like I have a plan that makes sense and simplifies things, and because of that I believe the guys buy into it and understand that they're hearing the same thing. We really believe with a good week and being consistent that we can finish top five and advance to the National Championships."