Forget hindsight being 20/20.
BYU men's coach Bruce Brockbank stuck to the philosophy of brutal honesty when asked if he had any indication his 10th-ranked Cougars would carry over the positive effect of winning their final tournament of the fall by making a statement in the opening tournament of the spring season (last week's Ping-Arizona Intercollegiate).
"I actually was a little hesitant to go down there," he noted three days after BYU's nine-shot victory over Arizona and Arizona State. "We'd had snow on the ground here [in Provo, Utah] for the previous two weeks, so we hadn't had much of a tune-up."
Be prepared to hear the same refrain from any number of players and coaches in the coming weeks as men's and women's teams alike shake off the competitive rust and build momentum toward the 2006 postseason after a 2½-month winter break. No doubt they have a point: Preparation for tournaments is hindered in parts of the country where Mother Nature insists you bring a parka and stocking cap with you to the first tee -- when you're not having to break out a shovel to clear your path in the first place.
Yet, instead of making winter's lingering effects the reflex excuse for getting off to a slow start, BYU turned it into a rallying cry by taking a "Why worry? Just play" outlook that might have caught its competition off guard. After a pedestrian opening-round 283 at Tucson's Arizona National GC that left them in fifth place, the Cougars grabbed everybody's attention in the second round that afternoon (and early the next morning after darkness halted play) by posting a 19-under 265, a score that turns heads in late April, let alone late January.
The round included a 7-under 64 from sophomore Daniel Summerhays, who carded six straight birdies at one point. That made junior Jake Ellison's four straight while posting a 65 seem rather ordinary. Add a 66 from senior Oscar Alvarez, who closed with five birdies and a par, and you can't help but wonder what they actually might have shot if they had been in game shape. (Nick Becker's 70 rounded out the scores that counted, meaning the Cougars had the luxury of dropping a 71 from Clay Ogden.) Making certain the performance didn't go for naught, the Cougars then equaled the best score of the third round, a 286, to take the title going away.
"There's something about this group," Brockbank said. "This is a pretty unique little team. They've got such good chemistry. By the end of the year these five guys have a chance to be great."
Ellison, in particular, deserves kudos considering how gut-wrenching the conclusion of the tournament turned out to be -- literally. After playing 35 holes the first day, the 24-year-old from St. George, Utah, came down with food poisoning that evening.
"Honestly, I didn't think he'd play any of that third round," said Brockbank, who didn't know Ellison had been ill until the following morning. "I figured he'd finish up the second [round] and we'd play with four guys."
Despite being sick, Ellison finished his second round and decided to at least start the final 18. By day's end, he posted a 2-under 69 and finished only one shot out of a playoff for the individual title, won by Arizona's Henry Liaw (see below). "My dad kept saying I would feel better as I got going, and I did a little," Ellison said. "By the end of the day, I was so tired."
"We all found out something about Jake," noted Brockbank. "I think his teammates knew he was a good player, but we really saw how much heart the young man has."
We also found out something about how to kick off the spring season -- a point other programs might want to take notice of. You don't have to go to school where it's sunny and 72 degrees to be a factor. You just have to have the right attitude.
Players of the Week
Oscar Floren, Texas Tech
With a final-hole birdie, the junior hung on to beat UCLA's Erik Flores by one at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship. A 1-over 217 at Sawgrass CC gave Floren his first college title and helped him build on a fall that included five top-10 finishes in five starts. He also became the first Red Raider to win an individual title since 2001.
This Week's Syllabus
Men: SunTrust Gator Invitational, University of Florida GC, Gainesville, Fla., Feb. 18-19
Entering its 29th year, the 54-hole event has become a traditional spring staple for many of the top teams in the country. This year's 14-team field is comprised of five Top 25 squads. No doubt the Gators have played the role of poor hosts over the years, winning the team title 19 times and having nine players claim medalist honors. Past champions include Brad Faxon (Furman, 1983), David Toms (LSU, 1989) and Camilo Benedetti (Florida, 2001), the latter holding the tournament record of 14-under 196.
Field: UAB, Central Florida, No. 4 Florida, Florida State, Georgia Southern, No. 8 Georgia State, No. 15 Kentucky, LSU, North Florida, Ohio State, Purdue, No. 18 South Carolina, Tulsa and No. 12 Wake Forest.
Women: Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 13-15
Many of the top teams in the country -- five of the top 10 and 13 of the Top 25 -- get an early read on how they'll fare by participating in this 11-year-old event, hosted by Ohio State. A year ago, Pepperdine grabbed the lead in the second round and held off UCLA and Duke to claim the team title for the second time in three years.
Field: No. 18 Arizona, No. 7 Arizona State, No. 9 Arkansas, No. 19 California, No. 22 Florida, No. 21 New Mexico, No. 16 Ohio State, Oklahoma State, No. 5 Pepperdine, No. 8 Southern California, No. 17 Stanford, No. 2 UCLA, No. 11 Wake Forest, No. 20 Washington.
Stat of the Week
1: Number of rounds in the 60s (out of 232 total) posted by the field during the Mercedes Benz Collegiate Championship at Sawgrass CC in Ponte Vedra, Fla., Feb. 5-7. UCLA's Erik Flores shot a 4-under 68 in the opening round, ultimately finishing with a 2-over 218, one shot back of medalist Oscar Floren of Texas Tech. Overall, there were only nine subpar rounds.
What To Watch For
• When the second-ranked UCLA women tee it up at next week's Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, it will be their first event since junior Hannah Jun fractured her neck in an automobile accident last December.
According to coach Carrie Forsyth, Jun is recovering well but there's no timetable as to when (or if) she might return to the lineup. Thankful that Jun's injury wasn't more serious -- although she has been wearing a halo brace -- Forsyth has the benefit of a deep roster that will keep the Bruins from falling out of contention for the 2006 Pac-10 and NCAA titles.
Expect freshman Ryann O'Toole and redshirt sophomore Brianna Loyear to vie for Jun's spot in the lineup and the rest of the roster (senior Susie Mathews, sophomore Amie Cochran and freshmen Jane Park and Tiffany Joh) to step up and further fill the void caused Jun's absence.
• The Colorado men's team has dedicated the spring season to the memory of their coach, Mark Simpson, who died of lung cancer in December after 29 seasons with the team. To make sure Simpson's presence is visible, the team will sport head covers this spring embroidered with "Simps 05" and bag tags with his picture on one side and "Simpson's Buffaloes" written on the other. The slogan also serves as an acronym, with team members developing words for each letter specifically to remember their fallen coach:
Never give up
• Most of the attendees at the Golf Coaches Association of America's annual meeting last month in Daytona Beach, Fla., were disappointed that the NCAA men's Division I golf committee already agreed to permit the use of range finders at NCAA regionals and nationals. It's not that they're opposed to the devices in general.
Rather they just wish a period of experimentation -- say, the first two months of the spring season -- had been established where teams could try them out in tournaments and see if they help speed play, as many tout, before agreeing to allow them in the most important tournaments of the season.
The Ping-Arizona Intercollegiate marked the first event where schools could use them in competition, but participants weren't ready to declare them either a failure or a success. Long story short: Don't look for the D-I committee to reverse itself on this matter, but also don't be surprised if the devices actually contribute to longer rounds -- and more upset coaches -- this spring.
Even more interesting than the issue of range finders is whether coaches choose to utilize a new decision in the Rules of Golf (Rule 14-3/16) that allows players to use electronic devices (cell phones, calculators, iPods). Among the permissible things players can do is download their swing before a round and watch it during a tournament (filming their swing during a round and watching it is prohibited).
Also within the rules is coaches or sport psychologists recording swing thoughts or other advice before a round and players being allowed to listen to them during competition. However, where the new decision seemingly leaps from the ridiculous to the sublime is that coaches can text message players during a round to warn them of trouble spots on a course.
"It's absolutely crazy, and will lead to six-, seven-hour rounds," says Texas A&M men's coach J.T. Higgins. "But if it's within the rules, you've got to at least consider it."
Here's hoping that the coaches make the executive decision of letting sleeping cell phones lie.
Ryan Herrington is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.