State of the Hogs: Sick Can Mean Good for UA Golfers

Taylor Moore, Nicolas Echavarria and Alvaro Ortiz have all produced individual titles this spring and the No. 23 Arkansas men's golf team heads to the SEC golf tournament with plenty of confidence.

Taylor Moore is feeling great. There is nothing to suggest that the senior from Edmond would be anything but 100 percent for the SEC Championships in one week at Sea Island, Ga.

But maybe he doesn't want to be full speed. Maybe he wants to throw up just before the start of the three-day tournament next Friday.

No, not really. But that's what started Moore on the hottest streak of his college career two months ago in Houston. He's been on quite a roll since, with a 70.4 stroke average with three top five finishes, including his only collegiate victory.

Moore was sick over night after shooting an opening round 73 in the All-American Classic at the Golf Club of Houston. He called assistant coach Barrett Lais to warn that it might be food poisoning. It wasn't clear if he'd be able to play.

There are no caddies in college golf. Players carry their own bags. Moore was going to have to tough it out in a weakened state. Head coach Brad McMakin had been walking with Moore since the previous tournament and so it was agreed they'd just take it hole by hole.

“I knew carrying the bag was going to be a challenge,” Moore said. “Brad just said to slow down and take it easy. I wasn't able to practice before the round and I threw up again 20 minutes before I teed off.”

A slower pace might have been just what was needed to trigger his best round of the season, a 6-under par 66 that included a double eagle two on his 17th hole, the 588-yard par five eighth. He holed a 5-iron from 215 yards after a massive drive.

“I flushed the drive,” Moore said. “I'd say over 350.”

The pin was front, just behind a bunker.

“I wanted to hit four,” he said. “Brad talked me down to a five. You couldn't see the pin. I picked out a tree that was about 10 feet right. It was right on it.”

Moore didn't see it land, but knew it had to be good when there were screams from behind the green. Lais was at the 10th tee and saw it all.

“It hit just on the fringe and went straight to the pin, hit it and then spun in like a putt,” Lais said. “I started screaming it was in. There were maybe 15 people behind the green and they were all clapping.”

Moore hit the same club on the par three ninth, another perfect shot, but didn't hole the putt. He was sad that the day was over.

“I wanted to keep playing,” he said. “I was pretty excited.”

Moore won the next day with a 68, his first individual win in a spectacular four-year college career. He'd won some big amateur events in the summer or at Christmas, but none in team events. The Hogs also won the team event at Houston, beating the host Cougars after falling behind by 22 in the first round.

That was the start of a red-hot streak for both Moore and the Hogs. He had chances to win his next two events and when he cooled, teammates Nicolas Echavarria and Alvaro Ortiz picked up the slack. Echavarria won the Southern, then Alvaro won two weeks ago at the Aggie Invitational.

The three spring wins is the first in program history. Jack O'Keefe, Bud Still and David White all won in 1993, but that was spread over two semesters.

The Hogs have been good all spring. They have jumped to the No. 23 in the Golf Week college rankings ahead of what most think is a wide open SEC tournament.

“I think we've beaten every team and they've all beaten us,” Lais said. “We have a lot of confidence right now.”

That confidence began with the mid-term arrival of freshman Charles Kim, a Texas transfer. He's played at No. 5, but has been a regular counter.

“We just weren't getting anything at No. 5 in the fall,” Lais said. “Taylor, Nicky, Alvaro and Kolton (Crawford) knew they couldn't have a bad round. That's a lot of pressure. With Charles this spring, we've thrown out a couple of 72s.”

It's gone from knowing you had to count a score to thinking about winning.

“I think we do have a lot of guys now thinking they can win,” Moore said. “I think me winning convinced all of us that we are good enough to win as an individual.”

Moore and Echavarria are rebounding from spring suspensions after an off-the-course issue. Both were held out of the NCAA championships.

“We have battled through adversity,” Moore said. “I know Nicky and I both want to play well for our coaches. We know we put them through a lot.

“We are close to both Brad and Barrett. We want to play well for them. We are excited for post-season play. Our record was not good in the fall, but it's been good this spring. We go out in each tournament thinking we can win as individuals and win as a team.”

Ortiz won after sitting out a tournament following a poor performance at Cabo, Mexico. He beat a tough field on a tough course at the Texas A&M tournament. He's still excited over the victory highlighted by a chip-in for birdie on the 54th hole.

“I'd never been benched before,” Ortiz said. “I needed to be humbled. I came back better. I wanted to prove I was one of the best players on the team.”

Ortiz has always been one of the most talented players on the team, but sometimes let a bad shot or tough luck ruin his day.

“I could sense a difference at Texas A&M,” Lais said. “He was coming off a bogey on the first hole and I was at the second tee. He walks up and says, 'It's a great day to play golf.' You just could tell he wasn't going to let a bad hole stop him.”

Ortiz said it wasn't a good start, but he cleared it away immediately.

“I just told myself to be patient,” he said. “It was just breaking through some mental barriers.”

There was some adversity late in the third round, but it didn't faze Ortiz.

“I bogeyed the 16th and that put me one back,” he said. “So I had to birdie 17 or 18. I hit a great shot at 17, but the putt hit a spike mark and didn't go in.

“I told myself that was just going to mean something special was going to happen on 18.”

Ortiz went for a back pin and almost landed it in the cup with his 200-yard six iron shot from the fairway. It skipped just off the back edge, forcing a chip.

“I was so nervous,” Ortiz said. “My hands were sweating. I told Barrett I was going to make it. I saw the line, hit my spot and it went in.”

All of this winning is contagious.

“I think so and it has us more committed,” he said. “Winning makes you want to work harder and believe in ourselves. We are doing it right.

“I think it started with getting Charles on the team. He's a good player.

“We didn't play so well in the first round at Houston, but we just decided enough was enough and made that comeback. It's been good since then.

“Taylor winning was a big boost for all of us. It just pushed us to practice more and made everyone hungry. I think Taylor winning was the stepping stone for something big for this team.”

Could it be at the SEC tournament? Perhaps, and look out if some one gets sick just before tee time.

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