State of the Hogs: Winning

With five victories this season, the Arkansas men's golf team is building confidence for the stretch run. Brad McMakin's team is used to playing in the last group.

The Arkansas men's golf team is making a prophet out of coach Brad McMakin. He said in September when the Razorbacks were at their best, they would be unbeatable and could win when not at top level.

After winning five tournaments in seven outings it's obvious there is something about these Hogs. Ranked No. 1 early in the season and currently as high as No. 7 in the three major polls, the Hogs figure to contend the rest of the way.

"Obviously, we are used to winning now," McMakin said. "We've been in the last group in all seven tournaments this year. We've been there. We don't panic. We handle the pressure. We find a way.

"I do think we can win even when we don't play at our best. We are like the Kentucky basketball team in that respect. They don't have to play their best to win."

McMakin tried to put a little pressure on the Hogs last week in the final nine holes at the John Hayt Invitational. They trailed host North Florida by five shots at the Jacksonville, Fla., tournament at Sawgrass Country Club. He and assistant coach Barrett Lais met every player on the 10th tee and instructed them to go after a few more tough pins.

"Barrett and I were really nervous, but our players were not," McMakin said. "They just kept playing. They kept hitting shots."

The Hogs, who will play in South Carolina on Sunday and Monday, put together an eight-under back nine to pass both No. 13 North Florida and No. 17 Central Florida, winning by four.

Even when they made a mistake, they covered it. Ethan Tracy, who finished third with a 4-under 68, drove it out of bounds on the 15th when his ball hit a cart path. He birdied the hole with his second ball with a chip in.

"Except for hitting the cart path, he might have won," McMakin said. "But he just kept playing." Tracy has been in the top five six times in seven events.

"All our players are playing well, but Ethan has been great," McMakin said. "He thinks he's going to win every time. And for that matter, the rest of our players think they can win. It's easier when you have four or five guys who think they can win."

McMakin said the Hogs probably won the tournament at Sawgrass on the 13th, a 470-yard par four into a tough wind.

"Every other team was playing it two to three-over," McMakin said. "We played it two-under as a team. And we played well on a tough finishing stretch. It's a Pete Dye layout with water everywhere on the last four. The last hole is tight, lots of trouble. We hit five balls right down the middle.

"The hardest part of golf is handling the pressure at the end. I put pressure on them on the 18th tee. And they handled it."

There is pressure on a daily basis as the Hogs practice at The Blessings. It's as tough as any Pete Dye course.

"Today, for instance, we asked them to tuck every pin, all of them difficult, for our practice," he said. "Some of them you just can't go after. It's OK to hit it in the middle and have a 30 footer. But they can and do go after some of them."

McMakin is trying to take some of the aggressive play out of his newest weapon, mid-term arrival Thomas Sorensen from Denmark. The 18-year-old freshman is talented tee to green, but needs management skills.

"Thomas is legit," McMakin said. "He doesn't putt it as well as our other guys and he thinks he can go at every pin. He knocks it past Ethan by 50 yards.

"I put him with Ethan in practice so he sees how you manage your game. If he learns that, he'll make us even better because he has talent.

"He hits it so good. The 18th at Sawgrass is a par five to a tiny green with water up front. With the wind the way it was, there was no way to stop it. Thomas did. He hit a eight-iron 192 yards and kept it on the green.

"But I tell him he doesn't have to go after every pin. He hits it better than Ethan, a lot better. But Ethan beats his brains in every day. He may not go after three pins all day. He doesn't have to take many risks to shoot 68. Thomas just needs to learn how to use all that talent."

Scary talent. McMakin said he's the first of his players to reach the 650-yard second at The Blessings in two shots. He did it with a driver and a No. 2 iron. The Hogs had him fitted with a new metal fairway club at Sawgrass.

"They put him on the machine to get his launch speed and angle and they all were going wow," McMakin said. "He flies that new fairway wood 292 yards. But he hits it so far he isn't hitting woods from the fairway. They asked him when he would ever need that club. He said, ‘When I get a 292 distance to the green.' He does play our (505-yard)18th at The Blessings with a three wood and a nine iron."

There is more of that on the way. Signee Taylor Moore of Edmond, Okla., has now won 51 junior tournaments.

"Taylor is as good as there is," McMakin said. "He's ready right now. He's athletic, solid and very, very talented. He's got the mental part, too."

The Hogs got a little lucky with Moore. His father Rod was a baseball player at Arkansas, his mother Melinda a Razorback cheerleader.

Some in the Oklahoma area say Moore is the first true homegrown golf star not to sign with Oklahoma State in a long time. Told that, McMakin smiled. He played at rival Oklahoma and probably covets all victories over the Cowboys.

It sounds like McMakin's team might be tough for the Cowboys and everyone else in college golf to handle for quite some time.

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