MOUNTAIN WEST MEN'S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS
DAYS: Friday-Sunday (18 holes/day)
LOCATION: Tucson, Ariz.
GOLF COURSE: Omni Tucson National Catlina Course
PAR/YARDAGE: Par 71, 7,144 yards
LOBOS IN THE EVENT: Freshman Andrej Bevins, junior Gavin Green, junior Victor Perez, junior Sean Romero, junior Sam Saunders
LIVE SCORING: themw.com, Golfstat.com
For a golf program that is the defending conference champion and whose players are familiar with the course, the 23rd-ranked University of New Mexico men’s golf team is heading into this weekend’s Mountain West Championship in Tucson, Ariz., with a lot of unknowns.
For example, the Lobos enter this year’s events with three more inexperienced players than they did last season when they secured an eight-stroke victory on the Catalina Course at Omni Tucson National.
UNM will field a group of players who dig the long ball – one of the team’s strengths is its length off the tees – but the course is a midsize, 7,144-yard, par-71 event.
And because none of the Lobos are Tiger Woods, circa, 2000-07, the team can’t affect the way other teams play.
“It’d be great to win, but you just go out there and do what you do every tournament and see what everyone else does,” junior Sam Saunders said. “You can’t worry about all that other stuff in our sport.”
It’s an approach that the Lobos have used – with success – to move past last year’s fifth-place team at the NCAA Championships. UNM lost three seniors from that team – Ben Bauch, John Catlin and All-America James Erkenbeck – but have come back in 2013-14 to win three events.
Gavin Green and Victor Perez, the young pups on last year’s squad, both are juniors this season and the grizzled veterans on the team.
“With Victor and I having played in the conference tournaments before, I hope we can set a good example for the other guys,” said Green, the No. 17 collegiate player in the country, according to Golfstat.com. “We can tell them not to panic, stay patient, just play their own game. They don’t have to do anything crazy; just play golf.
“At the same time, I think everybody is geared up a little bit. It’s a big tournament for us; obviously, everyone wants to win it again.”
It helps that all five Lobos have played the Catalina course before and know what to expect from it.
“This course doesn’t allow a long hitter to maximize that advantage,” said coach Glen Millican, owner of five conference championships during his 13-year tenure (2003-06, 2013). “The way the golf course is designed, most people are playing from the same area. There are two holes that are an advantage for a long hitter like Gavin. It doesn’t reward one part of the game over another.
“It’s a place where you have to stay patient. There’s not a whole lot of trouble, not a lot of rough there. The greens have decent speed and firmness so it’s not so bad that you really penalize yourself for hitting putts short of the hole. But you do always feel like you should be making birdies.”
Perez said the Lobos should be prepared for the event because they had a stretch in March where they played four tournaments in a month but have had almost three weeks to work on their games in preparation for the postseason.
“It was good to be able to refocus and think about what to work on and be ready to play specific courses,” said Perez, ranked 64th by Golfstat. “The key is you have to think your way around the course.”
Green, meanwhile, stayed in tournament mode, having tied for 47th at the European Tour’s Malaysian Open in his homeland of Kuala Lumpur last weekend.
“It kept me focused in the game,” he said. “I think I played pretty well over there, and I think my game’s getting back. I feel it clicking pretty good.”
Based on their Golfstat.com ranking of No. 23, the Lobos will be the top seed in the event and will get to tee off first on Friday, which generally is considered an advantage because the weather typically is calmer.
But the time they really want to be first is at the end of Sunday’s final round.
“That would be special, for sure,” Perez said. “Conference championships are something that define our careers as college players. Being two-time champion would be amazing.”