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.
Veterans leading UA golf into NCAAs
Arkansas golfer Mateo Fernandez De Oliveira watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during an NCAA golf tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Johnson. (AP Photo/Michael Woods).
FAYETTEVILLE — If Arkansas is to make a title run at the NCAA men’s golf championships over the next six days, the Razorbacks will have to lean on their veterans and Latin American players.
Then again, Coach Brad McMakin’s roster is teeming with players who fit both descriptions as the No. 28 Razorbacks prepare to take on 29 other teams at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arkansas will tee off on No. 1 at the difficult 7,289-yard Raptor Course at Grayhawk today at 9:27 a.m. Central along with Baylor and Duke. The Razorbacks will also be paired with the Bears and Blue Devils for an afternoon round Saturday.
The 30-team field will be cut to 15 following three rounds. After Sunday’s fourth round, the individual medalist will he honored and the final eight teams will be seeded for match play.
The Razorbacks are led by seniors Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, Wil Gibson, Julian Perico and Segundo Pinto. Redshirt sophomore Manuel Lozada will lead off the Hogs’ contingent.
Arkansas will be playing in its third consecutive NCAA championships, all at Grayhawk, the program’s 26th of all time and its ninth under McMakin.
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“I feel great about it,” McMakin said. “We’ve got five guys playing really well and that’s what you’re going to need this week. It’s got to be a team effort. I don’t feel like we have a weak spot in our lineup right now.”
The Razorbacks are also soaring on the momentum of a second-place finish at the NCAA Salem (S.C.) Regional in which they broke a swath of school scoring records, most notably an opening round 22-under par and a final score of 45 under.
Perico said the players discussed their approach Tuesday night, prior to Wednesday’s practice round at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale.
“We’ve been here three years and we’re old and like we felt we turned it around nicely at regionals,” Perico said. “We just have this ease inside of us like peace of mind where we feel we can freewheel it this week.”
Perico, whose play as a freshman in 2019 led Arkansas to the SEC championship, has been at the heart of the the Razorbacks’ recent run of success. The native of Lima, Peru, will be competing in his fourth NCAA championship, including in 2019 when he played as an individual when Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville hosted the event.
The senior quartet all played last season when the Razorbacks finished ninth at Grayhawk and Fernandez de Oliveira also placed ninth in the individual standings.
Perico helped McMakin recruit Pinto from Argentina and that in turn helped the Razorbacks land Lozada and Fernandez de Oliveira, Pinto’s countrymen.
“When I got here, Brad knows that one of my goals was to leave the place better than I found it,” Perico said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve been able to do that. Me and Wil have been here five years, Segundo has been here three, Manuel has been here three and then Mateo has been here two, and I think we’ve all made a positive impact with Coach McMakin just having fun.
Perico said the success of the current roster has “opened the market” in Latin America.
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“Us always playing good makes kids from South America want to come to Arkansas and nowhere else,” Perico said. “We’ve definitely created that avenue for Coach in the following years that I think is going to be helpful.”
Said McMakin, “Julian’s a great kid and he’s got a big heart. He’s a pleaser. When he came here, he just wanted to put Arkansas on the map. We’ve had five good years with him.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our program with Julian here. He helped me get Segundo, which helped me get Mateo. Recruiting wise, he’s been incredible.”
Grayhawk will not be near as yielding as The Cliffs of Keowee Falls, where Arkansas fired 77 birdies in 54 holes last week. Vanderbilt earned the top seed last year at Grayhawk with a 72-hole total of 14 over.
“I think you’ve got to be aggressive,” Perico said. “It’s a very hard golf course. They set it up super hard. I mean, the greens are like almost unplayable at times. You can’t be afraid to freewheel it if you’re feeling good.”
McMakin said the key to the desert golf is avoiding double- and triple-bogeys when playing out of trouble.
“You’ve got to avoid any big numbers,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of experience out there. All the guys have played here and they’ll know how to handle those situations.
“You’ve got to drive it good and you’ve got to putt it good. Both of those things we’ve been doing well over the last month and a half, so I feel great about this week.”
The SEC will be well-represented while seeking its first title since LSU won at Bradenton, Fla., in 2015. Arkansas will be joined by No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 9 Florida, No. 12 Auburn, No. 14 Texas A&M, No. 15 Alabama, No. 18 Mississippi State and No. 25 Georgia.
Defending champion Texas of the Big 12 is the No. 16 seed.
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