State of the Hogs: Men's golf catching fire at right time

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, May 3, 2019
Arkansas junior Tyson Reeder tees off during the third round of the 2019 SEC Tournament in St. Simons Island, Ga.
Photo by Steve Colquitt
Arkansas junior Tyson Reeder tees off during the third round of the 2019 SEC Tournament in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Brad McMakin understood earlier this spring when the Arkansas golf team was struggling in a few tournaments.

In his 13th season as coach, McMakin recognized that he’d put his big, strong, long-hitting bombers on a few courses that didn’t fit their game. They couldn’t pull their driver out of their bag in two of their first three events of the spring.

“We were playing a couple of desert courses,” McMakin said. “It was playing from one spot to another spot. Driver wasn’t the club. Our guys need to be hitting driver, but they were too long – they are really long -- to even think about pulling it out.”

Still, when junior Tyson Reeder came to McMakin with thoughts of calling a “players-only meeting” to perhaps light a fire for the stretch run, McMakin was all for it.

“First, he was the guy to do it,” McMakin said of the fourth-year junior and former star recruit to Oklahoma State.

“I knew the guys would listen if he was willing to talk, because he’s not real vocal. But they know he’s the guy that might twist off on someone.”

Quiet and religious, Reeder is also one of the team’s most athletic and physical players. A weight room freak, Reeder was held in awe by most of the team.

“You have to know his background,” McMakin said of the Edmond, Okla., North graduate.

“It’s all sports and a lot of baseball. His dad is tough minded. I think he taught Tyson if it was something important it was probably worth fighting for. I mean a real fight.

“I think our guys probably feel Tyson might fight you, or for sure get in your grill if he wasn’t happy about something. He’s one of those guys I can get on hard, because he’s had that all of his life, just his background in sports.”

Apparently, Reeder didn’t do anything wild in the meeting. Teammates said he talked straight, but not loud. He covered a lot of ground in what Reeder said “was 20 or 30 minutes” of discussion.

“I just thought it was time to figure something out,” said Reeder, noting the team had finished 11th and 14th in back-to-back tournaments, beating only three teams.

The thought of the men not advancing to the NCAA Tournament the year Arkansas was hosting the NCAA Championships at The Blessings was a real possibility.

“We had to do everything we possibly could do with us hosting,” Reeder said. “I just went over some little things that I thought were not happening. The first thing I said, 'We have to pick up the locker room.' And, I talked about school work. Some guys were behind in their school work. If you aren’t doing well in school, it usually bothers you with your golf. It’s something that worries you. And, then I talked about work ethic in our practice, more time with the short game.

“I told the guys, 'If we do our jobs, we’ll be here for the NCAA Tournament.'"

The Hogs still have to make it out of the Austin (Texas) Regional on May 13-15, but they are one of the most talented teams in the field. While seeded sixth best, McMakin thinks they are capable of winning even on top-seeded Texas’ home course.

“Texas is good there, but I’d say if we play them on their course and then on our course, we’d go 1-1,” McMakin said. “If we play good and we putt good, we’ll have a chance to win. That’s our goal. The top five advance and we don’t want to go down there trying to finish fifth and watch the scoreboard at the end of the day.”

McMakin said it’s a course where driver is in play, which is good for the Hogs. They are one of the longest teams in college golf.

Mason Overstreet and Reeder are the longest hitters on the team, capable of consistent 350-yard blasts. Freshman Julian Perico, the phenom from Peru, is almost as long and sometimes goes for the big blast at key points.

Perico cracked a 380-yard drive on the last hole of his clinching match in the SEC Championships last weekend.

“I was trying to get to the tee to talk to him about the proper line,” McMakin said. “He hit it as I was walking up the tee. It was the longest on that hole all week. There is a cart path that goes across the fairway at 350. No one had been to that spot all week and he was 30 yards past it.”

Perico explained that it was a big moment and time for a big hit.

“I just tried to hit it as hard as I possibly could,” he said.

That seems to be the mindset of this team as it heads into postseason play. The Razorbacks are rolling.

Two weeks after Reeder called the meeting, the Hogs finished fifth out of 15 teams at Augusta, Ga., then won a six-team event at Lincoln, Neb.

Then, after finishing seventh out of 14 teams in the stroke play version at the SEC, they won the match play, knocking out the top three seeds - Auburn, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M - in consecutive matches.

“We go to Texas as the No. 6 seed,” Perico said. “But we know we are playing now like we are the No. 2 seed there. We know we are capable of that. We have good players. We just didn’t have everyone playing well at the same time this spring. We did in the fall and played great most every tournament.”

McMakin agrees with that. He said last spring that this was going to be one of his most talented teams.

Perico is the lone freshman, but he’s a veteran international player. Luis Garza, Overstreet, Reeder and William Buhl all are juniors.

Reeder, a three-time high school champ in Oklahoma, redshirted as a true freshman at Oklahoma State. Then, after playing a few events as a redshirt sophomore and sitting the bench in the fall, he transferred at midterm last year. OSU won the national championship in runaway fashion last year and is still perhaps the nation’s strongest, deepest team.

“We’ve got that orange out of his blood now,” McMakin said. “His parents and grand parents went to OSU. But he bleeds Razorback red now.”

A powerful lefty, Reeder has done some amazing things at The Blessings, perhaps one of the most difficult courses ever to host an NCAA event.

“He set the course record, a 66,” McMakin said. “There was another day that he was 8-under through 10. This course is so hard.”

Reeder loves it and is excited to be at Arkansas. That’s why he wanted to talk to his teammates. He said he was so appreciative of what had been given to them by Blessings owner John Tyson.

“He just knew we were facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to play in the NCAA on our course,” McMakin said. “He told me that he knew it was important to the university and important to Mr. Tyson.

“I would have loved to have seen that meeting. I would have liked to have seen some of the guys’ faces. It’s kind of funny, our guys were talking to the Oklahoma State guys when Tyson first got here. They said, ‘Don’t fight him.’ I don’t think anyone has.”

Obviously, the team responded, but perhaps the one who has picked up his play the most is Reeder.

“He’s been different since then,” McMakin said. “Like I said, he’s had some great rounds here in practice. And, he was 11-under at Augusta and Lincoln.”

Reeder won at Lincoln with rounds of 71-69. He shot 64-70-73 for third at Augusta.

The 64 is the third on the school’s all-time list behind a pair of 63s. He went 2-1 in match play at the SEC Tournament, winning in 19 holes and 2-up on 18.

Reeder is a handful against his teammates in qualifying rounds at The Blessings. The next toughest is Maria Fassi, from the women’s squad.

Of course, Fassi and her Razorback teammates are good bets to make it out of the regional to a host role at the NCAA Championships. The Arkansas women are the No. 2 seed at the Cle Elum (Wash.) Regional, which will be played at Tumble Creek Golf Club beginning Monday.

“She beats our guys,” McMakin said of Fassi. “She plays a lot here against Luis Alvaro. She is way better than him.”

Knowing that Stacy Lewis was once the top player in college golf and No. 1 in world rankings during a fantastic stretch on the LPGA, McMakin said, “Fassi is the best girl golfer I’ve ever put my eyes on.”

It starts with those majestic 300-yard drives, but Fassi has the whole package.

“She’s just a sweetheart first, but then she bombs it right down the middle,” McMakin said. “She will win a major.”

First things first, Fassi gives the Razorbacks a good shot of having something to cheer for when they host later this month. But if the men keep rolling, there might be a lot to see.

“I feel good right now,” McMakin said. “Our girls are really good and right now our guys are walking pretty fast, too. You just see that they have a different clip to them, confident and ready to go.”

They aren’t looking back; they might see Tyson Reeder ready to get in their grill.

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