FAYETTEVILLE – While University of Arkansas spring semester final exams finish this week the Razorbacks golf programs ready to re-launch full swing.
Coach Shauna Taylor’s Razorbacks attempt to advance to the NCAA Women’s Tournament in the Monday through Wednesday qualifying Louisville Regional at the University of Louisville course in the Louisville suburb of Simpsonville, Ky.
Coach Brad McMakin’s nationally 23rd ranked Razorbacks learned Wednesday they’ve been assigned to the Kingston Springs Regional hosted by Vanderbilt May 17-19 in Nashville, Tenn. trying to advance to the NCAA Men’s Tournament.
The top six teams in each of the four women’s Regionals advance to the NCAA Women’s Tournament May 21-26 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The top five men’s teams in each of the six men’s Regionals advance to the NCAA Men’s Tournament May 28-June 2 in Scottsdale.
“ This is the first year that we actually will have finished finals before we head to NCAA Regionals,” Taylor said. “So that’s a bit nice to kind of have the academic piece behind us.”
Led by junior Brooke Matthews of Rogers backed by teammates Kajal Mistry, Julia Gregg, Cory Lopez, Ela Anacona and traveling alternate Miriam Ayora, the Razorbacks women perch on the verge of playing their best golf, Taylor and Matthews concur.
“ I think individually we’ve had a lot of great rounds of golf through this season,” Taylor said,. “I think at The Blessings (their home course where they hosted the 2019 NCAA Championships that since turned pro former Razorback Maria Fassi won individually) we kind of put it all together last week. We’ve seen glimpses of it at each event from everybody. We’ve had great rounds from Kajal and Ela and obviously Brooke and Cory Lopez. I just think in our sport it’s about hamming and egging it very well and making sure if somebody has an off day the other four come through. That’s how a team in golf works. We’ve played a Top Ten schedule and been battle tested every tournament.”
Matthews, an All-American candidate selected among those to represent the U.S. this at the Palmer Cup, said nobody has seen this team’s best golf yet.
“When I say we haven’t played our best golf I’ve seen a lot of great golf but we haven’t necessarily put it together,” Matthews said. “I see the potential of this team. So we’ve been waiting for it all year and we know it’s coming this (next) week and we’re confident.”
Although finishing sixth as a team achieves the same advancement as winning, Matthews said that’s not her approach.
“I don’t think necessarily you should just try to slide into the sixth spot,” Matthews said. “I think we should go out and try to win it. I think if we keep our eyes focused on winning then we should have no problem.”
Taylor’s women are seeded fifth in an 18-team field at Louisville behind South Carolina, Florida State, SEC champion Auburn and Texas
Makin’s men know firsthand that while it would be nice to win, it’s galling not advancing.
Especially when you’ve just won the SEC as Arkansas did in 2019 but had only Julian Perico qualifying individually for the NCAA Tournament the UA hosted since the whole team didn’t advance at Regionals.
Senior William Buhl recalled the giddiness of winning the SEC replaced by the shock of not qualifying at Regionals.
“Knowing what we went through and how heartbreaking that was, none of us want that feeling back in our stomachs,” Buhl said. “So having that and having the experience since of being there and being in contention (2021 SEC runner-ups to Vanderbilt) over and over again, I think that’s only going to help us move forward in a good way.”
McMakin expects the Hogs, with only freshman Manuel Lozada new from that 2019 team, to rise because of their 2019 comeuppance.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from it,” McMakin said. “Maybe a little overconfident going into Regionals. I think we’ll definitely be a little more humble going into this tournament. I know that their motivation is to get through and go contend at the national championship.”
The lineup is so deep that Mason Overstreet, a golf eligible senior already a year UA graduated and the 2017 NCAA runner-up as a freshman, travels as the alternate to a lineup of 2021 SEC individual champion Segundo Oliva Pinto, Perico, UA grad Tyson Reeder, Buhl and freshman Manuel Lozada.
Oliva Pinto, Perico, selected to represent his native Peru on the international team at the Palmer Cup, and Reeder each individually have won at tournament this season, an Arkansas first with three different men’s winners in the same year, McMakin said.
“Obviously I’m really fired up about Manuel Lozada’s game and with William being healthy I think our lineup is very strong,” McMakin said.
Buhl, a UA grad and past honorable mention golf All-American with eligibility restored along with Buhl and Overstreet after the covid-19 pandemic cancelled all 2020 spring sporst, started his final season behind recovering from major back surgery.
“ I probably had too high of expectations for William coming back from his surgery early on in this semester,” McMakin said. “When you don’t touch a club for six months I probably should have been a little more patient with him. But his game over the last six or seven rounds is back to normal. He’s gained his distance back. He’s definitely got his confidence back and that’s a huge factor.”
McMakin’s men are seeded fourth for Nashville behind ACC powers Clemson and North Carolina State and SEC champion Vanderbilt and ahead of fifth-seeded San Diego State in a 13-team field.