By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Aside from supplying The Blessings course upon which the Arkansas Razorbacks men’s and women’s teams will host the NCAA Men’s and NCAA Women’s Tournaments on successive May weeks, Blessings founder John Tyson through the Tyson Foundation insures all will attend the NCAA Golf Tournaments free of charge.
At a program Tuesday at The Blessings attended by Tyson and emceed by the Golf Channel’s Lisa Cornwell, a Fayetteville native and first Lady Razorbacks scholarship golfer, Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek announced the Tyson Foundation has underwritten all that would have been tickets sold for both tournaments.
So all admissions are free.
The NCAA Men’s Tournament May 25-9 follows the NCAA Women’s Tournament May 18-22.
Arkansas Women’s Coach Shauna Taylor and Arkansas Men’s Coach Brad McMakin and former Razorbacks women’s greats turned pro Stacy Lewis, the women’s golf program’s lone NCAA champion, and Gabriela Lopez, and former Razorbacks men’s great turned pro Austin Cook also attended and spoke at Tuesday’s program.
Taylor’s nationally No. 8 women play at this week’s Liz Murphey Classic in Athens, Ga. and then defend their SEC Championship April 18-21 in Birmingham, Ala. and then must qualify in NCAA Regionals to be an active NCAA Tournament host.
McMakin’s men, formerly nationally ranked 20th now fallen out of the rankings, aim for a SEC Championship April 24-28 at Sea Island, S.C. and also must advance through an NCAA Regional to be an active NCAA Tournament host.
Both were asked about the pressure on their teams and themselves with the shadow of what looms at The Blessings distracting from the SEC Tournament and then the must get through regionals pressure to be an active host.
“I just think with golf there is pressure every day anyway,” McMakin said. “Life is pressure. I think our team understands the situation and the importance of being here and competing. We have a good golf team. We’ve prepared all year for it. We worked hard and we just kind of let the chips go. But I’m very confident in this group.”
McMakin said he’s tried to “pace” his Razorbacks through the spring season and reinforce their success in the fall campaign still is a confidence builder even as the team performances have been off in recent tournaments even as it’s only human for the pressure to qualify at regionals exerting even more as a host.
As for the pressure, I try to take it off of them,” McMakin said. “We don’t think about it. We don’t talk about it. But I think they feel it. If it wasn’t here this year we’d probably with our team as good as they are we wouldn’t have any pressure. Because we are very good. I’m just trying to keep it (pressure ) to myself and let the players do their job.”
Hosting the tournament nationally televised by the Golf Channel makes it all worthwhile, McMakin said.
“Oh, my gosh, it’s incredible,” McMakin said. “Recruiting wise it’s going to showcase this great facility for two weeks on TV. It’s endless.”
Ditto, says Taylor.
“ I think Brad said it well,” Taylor said. “We worry about those things as having a lot going on but we kind of shelter our players from that. Our locker room is normal. Obviously we are gearing up for a big part of the season. We leave today for Athens, Ga. to compete. And we are just trying to take one golf tournament at a time and try to figure out our lineup and who is going to give us the best chance to have an opportunity to win a championship in two weeks and a championship here in a couple of weeks. So we’re excited about it.”
Of course there will be more pressure to advance in whatever Regional they are assigned.
“Oh, yeah, it’s definitely probably crossed my mind,” Taylor said. “But I believe in our team so much. I believe in our preparation and our work. This isn’t something we just found out about. This is something we’ve been working on for a very long time to prepare them mentally for all the things they are going to see and all the questions they are going to be asked and all the things they are going to experience. When you know something is coming you are prepared for it and I think they will be ready for the challenge.”
Arkansas All-American Maria Fassi, last year’s SEC Women’s Player of the Year, recently brought national attention to Taylor’s program with a runner-up at the inaugural Augusta Invitational in Augusta, Ga.
“Just like Stacy coming here and having such a tremendous college career, When our girls perform that way on a stage like that it just opens the floodgates for our program for the recognition I think we deserve,” Taylor said “Her performance on that stage says a lot about her first of all and second of all she loves Arkansas and loves being a part of it. And what better way than having somebody play so well to showcase our program.”
By Nate Allen Sports