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.
Teams gather at Blessings for SEC preview
Arkansas golfer Julian Perico (right) talks with Razorbacks head coach Brad McMakin during a practice round for the NCAA Men's Golf Championships at Blessings Golf Club on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The eyes of the college golf world will be on Northwest Arkansas starting today through Wednesday for the inaugural Blessings Collegiate Invitational at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.
Hosted by the University of Arkansas and sponsored by Tyson Foods, the BCI will bring together all 14 men’s and women’s programs in the SEC for a 54-hole tournament, one of the first in the sport this fall. The Golf Channel will televise daily from 2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. all three days.
No fans will be in attendance and the teams will play in their own five-person pods, concessions to the covid-19 crisis, but the Razorbacks are just glad they’re playing at all.
“We definitely consider ourselves to be some of the lucky ones,” Razorback junior Brooke Matthews said. “I know a lot of sports have been knocked out and a lot of conferences have knocked out golf. We’re just really thankful we’re in the SEC and they fought and allowed us to play.”
This Week's Ticket
WHAT Blessings Collegiate Invitational, presented by Tyson Foods
WHEN Monday through Wednesday
WHERE Blessings Golf Club, Johnson
NOTABLE All 14 men’s and women’s teams will participate in five-person team pods. The men’s course will play at 7,503 yards and the women’s at 6,290 yards. Championships will be awarded to the top men’s and women’s team, the top men’s and women’s players and an overall championship team that will combine men and women’s scores.
The SEC will conduct three fall golf tournaments, all intraconference events. Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek lobbied for a fall golf season, which is starting roughly a month late, and John Tyson showed his continuing commitment to the college game by backing the event.
“I definitely want to thank Hunter and Mr. Tyson and the SEC as a whole,” Arkansas senior Tyson Reeder said. “Golf isn’t probably the highest on the totem pole when it comes to sports, but it just speaks to how great of a conference the SEC is. We definitely feel like we’re one of the lucky ones.”
The Arkansas men are the reigning SEC champions, having won the 2019 title, while the Razorbacks women qualified for the final eight at the NCAA championships hosted by Blessings in May 2019.
“After the national championships, Mr. Tyson had a vision of hosting an event, and to be able to get it on the Golf Channel is truly amazing,” Arkansas men’s Coach Brad McMakin said. “Right now, especially during the dead period, this is going to be incredible for recruiting, for them to be able to see our facility and see the course in such good shape. It’s in mint condition right now.”
Said Arkansas women’s Coach Shauna Taylor, “What an awesome time. Mr. Tyson’s vision has grown, and playing Blessings Golf Club, it’s a championship course to hone your skills.
“Having everybody here playing the game that we all love on national television is a home run for our programs. I mean we haven’t been able to recruit since March. To be able to have [four] hours of coverage for three days in a row is a dream come true.”
The fields are stacked in both divisions, with 10 of the 20 men on the watch list for the Haskins Award given to the most outstanding player in men’s golf, and 12 of the 20 women on the watch list for the Annika Award, which goes to the top women’s golfer.
This will mark the first competition for SEC golfers since mid-March, when the pandemic canceled the entire postseason.
The teams got a practice round in on Sunday at the Blessings, which punishes stray shots and rewards precision shot-making.
“You’ve got to play good golf to score,” Reeder said. “It’s definitely an advantage. We’re out here every day. I’ve just gotten through a nine-round qualifier. I’ve never played a qualifier that long. So to play nine rounds of qualifying, very intense with a lot of good competition, I mean it’s only going to be an advantage.”
Said Matthews, “It’s definitely a difficult course. The more you play, the more you learn. I’ve been here for years and years and there’s still things I feel like I pick up every now and again. So we’re really excited to have the home course advantage this week. It’s something we don’t have very often in our sport so we’re just ready to take advantage of it.”
Reeder survived the grueling qualifying and will be in the Arkansas lineup along with juniors Julian Perico and Segundo Oliva Pinto, sophomore Wil Gibson and freshman Manuel Lozada. Perico qualified for the NCAAs as an individual in 2019 and shot a 64 at Blessings earlier this year. Oliva Pinto made the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur this summer before losing on a rules violation by his caddie on the 18th hole to eventual champion Tyler Strafaci.
On the women’s side, Matthews will be joined by sophomores Julia Gregg, Ela Anacona and Kajal Mistry, and freshman Cory Lopez.
Matthews won the Arkansas State Golf Association Stroke Play Championship this summer, then came in 49th at the Northwest Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
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