LAS VEGAS – Southern Highlands Golf Club usually leaves teams battered and bruised, beat up after three days of relentless winds and immense pressure on a big-boy course.
That’s certainly been the case for Texas over the past few years. Even with some of their most talented teams in the program’s long history, the Longhorns have failed to finish better than sixth since 2010 in the Collegiate Masters.
“This course has had our number,” conceded senior Kramer Hickok, but as he and his teammates walked off the course Wednesday,there was something different about them.
Battered and bruised? Nope.
They were, well, buoyant. Bullish.
And why not? After three rounds on a rain-softened track with little wind, Texas lit up its old nemesis with a tournament-record 26-under 838 and 10-shot win over Oklahoma in the No. 1-ranked college event of the year.
This was the quintessential team victory: All five Longhorns starters were under par and inside the top 25 individually, led by sophomore Beau Hossler, who shared second, and Hickok, who was fourth.
“This is a big one,” said Texas coach John Fields, barely able to contain a toothy grin. “This is one our guys can be excited about.”
The Longhorns may be ranked fourth nationally, but you can make a convincing case that they’re the best team in the country. They captured the U.S. Collegiate against an elite field in the fall. Last week in Florida they won in terrible conditions at the John Hayt Invitational. And now they won the Southern Highlands in a rout, running away from a field that included five of the top 10 teams and 10 of the top 25.
“We’re one of the top teams, if not the top team,” Hossler said. “We’ve known that since Day 1, but now we’re starting to prove it to ourselves.”
Indeed, Texas was the most talked-about team heading into this season, with its roster chock full of big-name prospects, former AJGA All-Americans and U.S. Open participants.
The biggest name remains Hossler, who turned heads while grabbing the lead during the second round of the 2012 U.S. Open, but the Longhorns also welcomed 2013 U.S. Junior champion Scottie Scheffler and top-five recruit Doug Ghim.
Any freshman experiences a transition period when he first arrives on campus, and these two studs were no exception. Not only are their social changes – being away from home, learning time-management skills, dealing with the temptations on a college campus, etc. – but the golf requires a different mindset as well.
Whereas many junior golf courses are set up to promote birdies and low scores, the trend in college golf is for the course to protect par. Tournament officials will grow out the rough, firm up the greens, cut the holes in tricky positions.
So when Scheffler and Ghim struggled in the fall, combining for just one top-20 finish, it was the job of experienced players like Hickok and Hossler to step in and tell them to lower expectations.
“It just takes time for them to get their bearings,” Hickok said.
“We all went through it,” Hossler said, “and they’ve really stepped up big for us.”
Those freshmen are coming around now, especially Scheffler, who has rattled off five consecutive top-11 finishes, including a T-7 showing here in Vegas.
“The spring has felt like a fresh start for us,” he said. “This hasn’t even been all of our A-games yet, either.”
Scary, because just like during their title run in 2012, the Longhorns are full ofconfidence and sprinting toward May’s finish line.
“You take any of our five guys and they can win individually,” Hickok said. “Most teams can’t say that.”
So much for battered and bruised.