HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The University of Colorado men’s golf team briefly flirted with its first conference title in 41 years, but in the end top-ranked Oklahoma State was too much and the Buffaloes settled for a solid second place finish as the 13th Annual Big 12 Conference Championships came to a close here Wednesday.
The Buffaloes, who collectively felt they were underrated coming in, ranked No. 47 by Golfweek, No. 53 by GolfStat and totally ignored in the coaches poll, entered the final round three strokes behind the Cowboys. CU led by a stroke a couple times, the last time about six holes in, though hard to calculate after weather issues forced a change to a shotgun format. But a couple of OSU players started to get it under par, finally leading to some separation for the first time this week.
Oklahoma State went on to win its third straight league crown with an 1,149 team score, while the Buffaloes were 14 off the pace at 1,163. CU did hold off a charging Texas A&M, as the No. 12 Aggies finished third with 1,167. Kansas State used the best single team round of the tournament, a 4-under 276, to claim fourth with a 1,170 score, while Baylor rounded out the top five at 1,174.
Colorado last finished second in a conference meet in 1981, when the Steve Jones-led Buffs also pushed OSU to the brink, trailing by a single stroke enter the third and final round before succumbing by seven.
It was the best finish by a North Division school since Kansas was the runner-up in the 2000 event, and marked just the eighth time in 13 years that a North team finished in the top three; Colorado has now done it three times, including third place efforts in 1998 and 2000, Kansas twice and Iowa State, Missouri and Nebraska once each.
“We’ll be excited about finishing second, but more than anything, right now we’re a little disappointed because we were excited for the opportunity to battle for the title,” head coach Roy Edwards said. “We just kind of ran out of gas in the middle of the round. There’s no shame in finishing second in this conference, and in the coming days we will feel good about what we accomplished. It just stings a little bit right now.
“So overall, we’re pleased and we know we’re just going to get better.”
CU was led overall by its standout senior duo of Patrick Grady and Derek Tolan, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, their best showings in the Big 12’s. Both were contending for medalist honors well into the final round out of a pack of about eight golfers before the front end of the group started to slowly pull away. They both earned All-Tournament Team honors, presented to the top 10 finishers.
Grady managed just one birdie and 11 pars against six bogeys on the 6,701-yard, par-70 Prairie Dunes Country Club layout, shooting final round 75 for a 7-over 287, the fifth best total for a 72-hole tournament in school history. His short game salvaged the week, as he admittedly wasn’t playing his best but still managed to enter the final round at just 2-over. He had one of CU’s two eagles here, and had just two holes worse than a bogey, and both only doubles at that.
“Pat hung in there all week, he knew he wasn’t playing his best, especially off the tee,” Edwards said. “But when he knows that, he manages his game well and plugs along, kind of like keeping all the parts duck-taped to the car, so-to-speak.”
Tolan had never finished higher than 33rd in three previous tries in the league title affair, and was tied for the lead at the midway point here. He had 17 birdies for the week, including ones on his first (No. 2) and last (No. 1) holes Wednesday, when he was 1-over after 11 holes. But a disastrous triple bogey on the 445-yard, par-4 13th hole jumped him to four over, though he came back immediately with a birdie on No. 14. A double bogey on the par-5 17th would cost him a top five finish.
He also shot a 75 to finish with an 8-over 288 score, tied for the sixth best 72-hole score ever at Colorado.
“They’re disappointed with their scores today, but they got us here and in position to contend with their first three rounds,” Edwards said. “It may not seem like it, but they did a good job to shoot 75s.”
The last time CU had two players finish in the top 10 in a league championship was in 1999, when Matt Call tied for fourth and Ben Fiala shared ninth. It’s the 18th time it’s happened since 1948, when Colorado joined what became the Big Seven Conference.
The good news Wednesday, in particular to CU’s future, was that CU’s two true freshmen participating here posted the best scores in the final round. Kevin Kring matched the second best score by a Buffalo frosh in a league championship meet, an even-par 70, finishing up with a 296 score (+16), which tied him for 12th.
The 12th place finish was the third best a Buff freshman in the Big 12 Championships, topped by 11th place efforts in 2000 by Kane Webber and Stephen Carroll. It was the eighth best all-time conference meet finish by a CU frosh.
Kring was steady, with four birdies, four bogeys and 10 pars in his final round. He started on No. 3, and was 2-over through 11 holes; at that point, he buckled down and finished his round 2-under, with birdies on No. 16 then on No. 1 returning him to even.
Mike Mulhern shot a 68 in the 1972 Big 8 Championships to set the mark for a CU freshman, with Dale Douglass (1956 Big Seven) and Steve Jones (1978 Big Eight) recording 70’s prior to Kring’s matching effort Wednesday.
Johnny Widmer posted a final round 72, which included 13 pars, two birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey, the latter coming with just four holes remaining otherwise he, too, was flirting with an even par closing effort. He tied for 34th overall with a 304 (+24) score for the week, which included playing his last 36 holes at just 5-over par.
“The way Johnny played the last two days and Kevin in his second round and today, it bodes well for down the road this year and the future,” Edwards said of his two young guns, the first time since 2000 that CU had two freshman entered in the Big 12’s. “They did everything you can ask of freshmen under these circumstances.”
Junior Luke Symons rounded out the CU action, firing a 76 to close with a 307 total (+27), tying him for 43rd. As was case with his opening round 85, the bulk of trouble happened on a minimal number of holes, Wednesday’s case being a triple bogey on No. 7. Otherwise, he had two birdies and five bogeys with 10 pars.
“The way Luke came back from his opening round was an achievement as well,” Edwards said. “He wasn’t hitting it straight most of the week and struggled with his driver. But he didn’t let Prairie Dunes mess with him, so overall he did a pretty good job.”
Oklahoma State freshman Morgan Hoffman shot a final round 66 — the low round of the tournament — to claim medalist honors with a 4-under 276 score. He was a stroke behind Baylor’s Bill Allcorn heading into the final round, and with Allcorn turning in a solid par 70 effort, was able to overtake him for the top spot. Allcorn was the only other player under par for the week (279, -1); Kansas State’s Robert Streb finished third (281).
The Buffs will find out their NCAA Championship destination on Monday in a 4 p.m. MDT conference call by the NCAA selection committee. Regionals will be held May 14-16 in six locations as opposed to three in past years, with fewer teams advancing from each site. The host cities are Austin, Bowling Green, Ky., Galloway, N.J., San Francisco, Sorrento, Fla., and Stillwater, Okla. The finals will be May 26-30 in Toledo.
“We can use this as a learning experience,” Edwards concluded. “With fewer teams advancing out of each regional location, there will be that much more pressure on every shot. Hopefully what happened here will serve us good.”
6. Patrick Grady............................... 71-71-70-75—287
7. Derek Tolan.................................. 71-68-74-75—288
T12. Kevin Kring................................... 78-71-77-70—296
T34. Johnny Widmer............................ 78-81-73-72—304
T43. Luke Symons............................... 85-73-73-76—307
TOP 5 INDIVIDUALS
1 . Morgan Hoffman, Oklahoma State... 71-71-68-66—276
2 . Bill Allcorn, Baylor................................ 68-71-70-70—279
3. Robert Streb, Kansas State.................. 69-75-67-69—281
4. Bronson Burgoon, Texas A & M............ 72-68-72-70—282
5. Rickie Fowler, Oklahoma State............ 74-71-72-69—286
1. Oklahoma State...................... 293-288-287-281—1149
2. COLORADO............................. 298-283-290-292—1163
3. Texas A&M.............................. 301-284-296-286—1167
4. Kansas State........................... 304-301-289-276—1170
5. Baylor....................................... 297-293-293-291—1174
6. Texas Tech.............................. 295-304-300-289—1188
7. Kansas..................................... 298-306-290-297—1191
8. Texas....................................... 303-305-306-280—1194
9. Missouri................................... 310-307-290-297—1204
10. Oklahoma................................ 310-301-306-288—1205
11. Nebraska................................. 319-293-300-294—1206
12. Iowa State............................... 306-308-295-301—1210
u The Buffaloes will celebrate their second place finish, along with the women’s first-ever invitation to regionals this Saturday, May 2, at the official dedication of Colorado National Golf Club (formerly Vista Ridge). Former CU golfers (and U.S. Open champions) Hale Irwin and Steve Jones will be among several alums returning to help dedicate the facility and complete the dreams of their respective head coaches, the Les Fowler and Mark Simpson. The event gets underway at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
u Oklahoma State and Texas came in as the only teams that had posted first division (top 6) finishes in the previous 12 Big 12 Conference championship meets; the Cowboys now stand alone in that fact as Texas finished eighth this year.
u By going 10-1 against the field here, Colorado’s won-lost-tied record for the year is now 121-48-2, a 71.3 winning percentage. A school’s record now plays a greater role in regional selection and placement; no team under .500 can be selected for advancement to the postseason. CU’s percentage trails only Kansas State (102-19-2, .837) and Oklahoma State (114-23-1, .830); five schools won’t meet the criteria to advance, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas and Nebraska.
u Derek Tolan’s four rounds in the championships gave him 148 for his career; that’s third all-time at Colorado as he trails only Rick Cramer (159, 1978-82) and Terry Kahl (152, 1976-81).
u As stated above, CU last finished second in a conference meet in 1981, the third of three straight years CU played second fiddle to Oklahoma State. The Buffs were also second in 1979 and 1980, though in more distant fashion, trailing by 27 and 23 strokes, respectively.
u CU’s 1,163 team score was a school record for a 72-hole meet; the old mark was 1,170 set in the 1986 New Mexico Tucker Invitational.
u The last round was under consideration as being cancelled at one point Wednesday morning, as heavy rains and lightning delayed the start by two hours. The rains subsided and the course superintendents did a good job of limiting the areas with standing water on the course. The pairings were reshuffled into a shotgun format instead of using the No. 1 and 10 tees with interval tee times.
u Grady and Tolan continued their assault on the CU record book. Grady is eighth in all-time top five finishes (8), now eighth in top 10 efforts (12) and ninth in top 20 finishes (17), while Tolan is 11th in the top five (5), now second in top 10 (18) and tied for third in top 20 (25) efforts. Grady has the school record for the most rounds in the 60s in a single season here with 10, but Tolan is right behind him with 9.