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.
Golden Bear design awaits Arkansas golf
Julian Perico, of Arkansas, tees off on the third hole during an NCAA golf tournament on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
FAYETTEVILLE — Peruvian Julian Perico won the junior division of The Memorial on July 27, 2017, with University of Arkansas assistant coach Barrett Lais in attendance recruiting the teenager, who was attending Monteverde Academy in Florida.
That championship moment sparked the latest successful chapter of Arkansas men’s golf, which included the 2019 SEC championship with Perico scoring the clinching point at St. Simon’s Island, Ga.
The location and course for Perico’s junior title almost five years ago?
The Scarlet Course at the Ohio State Golf Club.
That’s where the senior Perico and the Razorbacks will compete in NCAA regional play, beginning today at the 7,455-yard par-71 course in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s a great golf course,” Perico said. “It’s a Jack Nicklaus design. It’s really good. It’s a hard golf course, so that’s good for us I feel like.”
Arkansas Coach Brad McMakin is of the same mind.
“You want to be on a tough golf course, so if you play well you’ll reap the rewards,” McMakin said. “I think we’ve got a good spot to go to. Ohio State is an unbelievable facility and golf course, and I think it suits our team really well.”
Arkansas is the No. 3 seed at the 13-team regional, behind Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech. Clemson is the fourth seed, followed by East Tennessee State, host Ohio State, Duke and Northwestern.
The rest of the field is Florida Gulf Coast, San Francisco, Kentucky, Wright State and Southern Illinois.
The top five teams from each of six regionals will make up the 30-team field at the NCAA championships scheduled for May 27-June 1 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Perico has been more than just a standout performer, with a career stroke average of 71.43 that is the best in school history. He also played a strong role in recruiting fellow Latinos Segundo Oliva Pinto, Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, Manuel Lozada and Juan Camilo Vesga onto the roster.
“I definitely feel like I’ve made an impact here, bringing guys like Segundo,” Perico said. “He’s an unbelievable player.
“Mateo, another unbelievable player. Juan, Manuel, Yeah. We have a bunch of guys on this team. We’re just going to try to go out there and do what we do best and try to win the thing.”
Pinto won the SEC individual title in 2021 and made the round of 16 in match play at the 2020 U.S. Amateur.
Fernandez de Oliveira was also in the round of 16 at the 2020 U.S. Amateur while he played for TCU, before Perico helped convince him to come to Northwest Arkansas.
The Razorbacks will send out a veteran lineup today, with Fernandez de Oliveira in the No. 1 position, followed by senior Luke Long of Fayetteville, Pinto, Perico and junior Wil Gibson of Jonesboro.
Arkansas is looking to reverse its postseason fortunes after failing to qualify for match play at the SEC championships two weeks ago.
“The way they handled SECs, I was really happy,” McMakin said. “Not a lot of down moments. It was time to get ready for the next one.”
McMakin said the Razorbacks have veterans like Long, Perico and Fernandez de Oliveira who have played in Western Amateurs on similar courses.
“I just like the set up for the golf course,” he said. “That’s one of the main things when you go to a regional. You want to go to a golf course that suits your game, suits your team and is difficult enough for if you play well you don’t feel like you’re going to have any unlucky, unfortunate teams come up and beat you.”
Perico said the Scarlet Course plays long.
“It’s challenging for sure,” he said. “The par 5s aren’t easy. I mean you can birdie them, but you can also mess them up, so you’ve got to be really smart. You have to be really patient up there. It’s a hard golf course.
“Regionals, it’s a lot of pressure. You’ve just got to hang in tight and accept that pars are good. Of course there’s going to be a few guys that light it up, and hopefully that’s us. But like one through five on your team, if you put together rounds like even par or a little sub that you’ll be in good shape I feel like.”
Perico said the men’s team has taken heart after watching the UA women’s golf team fail to advance to match play at the SEC Championships, then qualify for the NCAA Championships, also at a Big Ten course.
“For sure, we’re all so proud of them,” Perico said. “They lost Brooke [Matthews] and that wasn’t going to be easy. They put together three good rounds and made it through. Shauna [Taylor] and Mike [Adams] are incredible leaders.”
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