Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Arkansas men's golf team rides momentum from SEC
William Buhl of Arkansas hits a tee shot during the Valspar Collegiate Invitational at the Floridian on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Palm City, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Halleran)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas men's golf team upset the top three seeds at the SEC championships one week ago to nail down the Razorbacks' first conference title since 1995.
Yet the Razorbacks are not ranked among the favorites to advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be held May 24-29 at their home course, The Blessings.
Arkansas is the sixth seed at the NCAA Austin Regional, which will begin next week. The top-five finishers at six regional sites will make up the 30-team field at The Blessings.
"I don't mind being a sixth seed, honestly," Arkansas junior William Buhl said. "A six seed playing like a 2 or 1 seed, I'll take it all day."
Indeed, the Razorbacks look like one of the more dangerous teams in the country after beating No. 4 Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and No. 13 Auburn in match play over two days at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga.
"I think they're on cloud nine," Arkansas Coach Brad McMakin said. "They're definitely walking with a bigger strut in their step. I think it's going to go a long way."
Junior Tyson Reeder won his match in the finale against Auburn on the 18th hole to give the Razorbacks a 2-1 lead.
"In the moment, I kept saying to the guys that it doesn't feel real," Reeder said of the SEC title. "To wake up the next day and know you made history, it was an awesome feeling. It's pretty special."
After a solid start in the fall, the Razorbacks had a rough patch for a long stretch early this spring. A players-only meeting, arranged by Reeder and fellow junior Mason Overstreet about four weeks ago, redirected the team's focus.
The Razorbacks have played well for three consecutive weeks.
"Definitely the confidence goes through the roof," Reeder said. "We're peaking at the right time."
Freshman Julian Perico went 3-0 in match play at the SECs, while Reeder and Buhl were both 2-1. Junior Luis Garza won his only two completed matches, an upset 5-up victory over Vanderbilt's Will Gordon, the SEC's top-ranked golfer, and an extra-holes win over Texas A&M's Brandon Smith as the clinching point in the semifinals.
Garza missed a match-winning putt against SEC medalist Jovan Rebula of Auburn on the 18th green to force extra holes as Perico and Graysen Huff, playing in the fourth pairing, were teeing off. At that point, Arkansas led 2-1 and needed just one more match to clinch the championship over the Tigers.
"I told coach that I was going to swing as hard as I could because it was just the right moment," Perico said.
"I couldn't even get up to him to pick a line off the tee," McMakin said. "The wind was blowing in our face, and it was a little bit different wind than we had. I was trying to get up there to pick a line for him off the tee, and he hit it before I could even get on the tee box.
"And he hit it 380 right down the middle. The ball went across that cart path. There hadn't been one ball across that cart path all week. But that's the nature of his game. That's how he is. He plays really fast, and he plays really aggressive. Match play suits his game really well."
Perico said he enjoyed having the pressure on him to take out Huff, who tied his teammate Rebula for the individual title before losing in extra holes.
"I really didn't want to take it to 19," Perico said. "I wanted to win 18 and just leave it there, so that was my mindset and that's what I've been working on. When it's time to close, you've gotta close.
"In that situation, you've got to close it out as soon as you can. And the soonest I could in that match against Graysen -- he played great golf -- was on the 18th hole. So I mean, once I saw Luis lip out that putt, I was like 'All right, you've got to step up now. You've got to put it on the green and two-putt because he didn't hit that great of a drive on 18. So I had the advantage there, thank God."
Buhl said Perico "has a lot of fire" in his personality.
"You can't take that away from him," he said. "He's got that grit. He can play with anybody. He's not afraid to show his emotions."
Overstreet, the NCAA runner-up as a freshman two seasons ago, went 0-3 in match play at the SECs, but didn't play poorly. He advanced out of the U.S. Golf Association sectional qualifier in Hot Springs on Monday with a 69, one stroke behind Mitchell Ford of Little Rock.
"His game was good," McMakin said. "He was 1-under par when the [Auburn] guy [Brandon Mancheno] beat him 6 & 5. "That's how match play goes. Unfortunately, Mason caught the hot guy that day. Mancheno was beating everybody 6 & 5. But he played really solid that day and had a good stroke play."
In Austin, the Razorbacks are seeded behind, in order, top seed Texas, USC, Pepperdine, Clemson and TCU, with Iowa, Marquette, San Jose State, Saint Mary's, Sam Houston State, Missouri-Kansas City, Prairie View A&M and Army also vying to finish among the top five.
Sports on 05/05/2019
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