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Mike Ketcham earned NCAA South Central coach of the year honors this season after leading the Arkansas golf team to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. Ketcham is in his second season as UA golf coach.
Arkansas finished 27th out of 30 teams in the NCAA tournament. The Hogs won three tournaments this past season. Junior Andrew Dahl finished in a tie for 10th at the NCAA in indivdual play, carding rounds of 73-81-70-71 at the par 72 Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla.
Question: Scores were extremely high at the NCAA tournament. The winning team score for four rounds was 39-over par by top-ranked Clemson. Describe the way the course was set up for the championship.
Mike Ketcham: It was extremely difficult, but also extremely fair. The fairways were 40 to 60 yards wide and that is enough room. After that, the first cut of rough, mostly 4 1/2 inches was another 20 yards. Then, you had virgin woods with thick underbrush. There was 4-6 inch fescue overseeded in the timber. So, if you hit a ball in that area, you didn't even look.
The course was visually intimidating. There are no houses. At no point could you see another hole. So, if you missed a fairway, you had a lost ball if it was outside that first cut of rough. If you hit it in the first cut of rough, you wedged back to the fairway and it cost you a stroke. If you hit it in the trees, you had a lost ball and you had to reload. That's a two-stroke penalty.
You had to be mentally tough to handle those conditions. We didn't handle it mentally as a team, but that's the way it's supposed to be in your national championship. Some of the coaches complained and had a problem with that, but I didn't. I think the goal of the setup is to make it tough and to identify the best team in the nation. That's what this course did. I thought it was very difficult, but very fair. There was not one bail out area on any hole. It was a great test. You saw some teams that couldn't handle it. But, the good players did handle it.
Question: One of the good players was Andrew Dahl. It appears he validated himself as a great player with the way he responded to those conditions. What was his secret?
Mike Ketcham: Andrew Dahl has great confidence and great mental toughness. He can drive it straight. He has a solid game with all the mental aspects it took to play this course. I am very proud of the way Andrew performed all week. He repsponded to adversity after that second round with two great rounds to finish the week. He battled back and did not give up and was on the leader board the final day.
The rest of our team did not make the 54-hole cut, and I asked them to follow Andrew the last day to watch how he played the course. Then, after he finished, I sent them back out to watch the lead group with Clemson and Oklahoma State to see how they handled that course and how they did things. At first, I think they were embarrassed by having to do that, but I think they also will tell you that they learned some things that will help them.
Question: With the scores so high, did the tournament setup do anything to discredit college golf?
Mike Ketcham: We could have a course that was easy and yielded a lot of birdies. We've played the tournament on that kind of course recently, and I don't think that does anybody any good. It's better to test the players.
I think when you look at the U.S. Open, it's set up in a way to identify the best player in our game. It's our national championship for professionals. I think the NCAA is our association's national tournament and should be set up to identify the best team. An easy course does not do that. There would be no flukes on a course like what we played last week.
There are some things that need to be addressed, and one of them is the way the cut was handled. We went into the tournament thinking there would not be a cut. Then, the difficulty of the course forced six-hour rounds and made it where some of the teams finished at or near dark. That's not right. We did need a cut, but it was wrong how it was done. We found out as we were teeing off the third day that there would be a cut. You had already conducted your meeting to discuss the day's plans and then you find out there will be a cut. That's not right. Some of the teams were playing in the morning when that decision was made and they didn't even find out until the end of their round. At least we knew as we teed off. Still, that's not the way to do it.
I'm not against a 54-hole cut. If you aren't in the top 20 teams with one round to play, you aren't going to win and the tournament is designed to find the winner. So, a cut is not a problem with me, as long as it is a 54-hole cut and not a 36-hole cut.
I do think another way to handle it is to go from the top 10 teams in the three regionals to the top eight teams. That would take the field down from 30 to 24 teams, and that would make the field a better size. I think maybe the way to do it, though, is to keep it at 30 and have a 54-hole cut. I just think it's important to know that there is a cut as you start play on the first day.
Question: It appears the future is bright for the Hogs. Give us a state of where you think the UA golf program is today.
Mike Ketcham: First, I think if you told me two years ago that we would have had the type of season we just completed, that I'd be very happy. We were competitive with 13 top 10 finishes and we won or tied for tournament titles three times. We made the NCAA tournament, which was our top goal before the season. So you have to be pleased with that kind of progress. We had a good season with a lot of highlights along the way. We re-established ourselves as an NCAA Championship contender.
But, I think we are far from satisfied. We learned that we are not there yet. We learned that this week. That was a disappointment with the way we played as a team.
By far the most exciting thing is that our entire team is back next year. They should benefit from this year's experiences and be ready for bigger and better things next season. We have two fine recruits and I think both will be playing early next year. I think both can make our lineup, so that will make our squad stronger.
We have a fine leader in Andrew Dahl. To finish in the top 10 nationally is quite an accomplishment and he was a player who battled at the top for most of the season.