The Arkansas men's golf team struggled to put a solid five on the course in the fall and wasn't in a competitive position for most tournaments. Then, Charles Kim arrived from Texas, eligible immediately.
Things changed in a hurry. Arkansas challenged in almost every tournament in the spring, winning the All-American Classic in Houston, rallying from a 22-shot deficit after the first round. Taylor Moore won the individual title at the All-American. Alvaro Ortiz and Nicolas Echavarria also won individual titles in the spring.
They finished tied for second in the NCAA Kohler, Wis., Regional last week. They were in position to beat No. 2 Illinois until some mishaps on the final hole. They might be a dark horse pick for this week's NCAA Championships, beginning Thursday in Eugene, Oregon.
"If we play well, we can win," Arkansas coach Brad McMakin said Monday. "If we don't, we will be in the middle of the pack. But we've played well for most of the spring. We are solid one through five. We have several playing well enough to win as individuals."
The tournament is stroke play for four days, then switches to match play with the top eight teams advancing. It's not a format that McMakin likes since there is no match play over the course of the season.
"We ought to just play 72 holes of stroke play and call a winner," he said. "I don't think too many like it, but that's the way we do it now."
Without question, the Hogs do have a balanced squad, but there is a definite lead horse. Moore, senior from Edmond, is coming off an All-SEC senior season.
"Taylor is playing like a pro," McMakin said. "He hits it as good as anyone out there right now. He is a great ball striker. When he putts well, he is going to win. He played well enough to win six times this spring. He just always didn't putt great. He's putting well now."
It's not like he's a weak putter, but he's amazing tee to green. Moore isn't big in stature. He's just 5-10 and 170 pounds. But he's powerful. He hits it a long way.
"He's as good a driver as there is in college golf," McMakin said. "He hits it 300 and it's straight. It moves left to right, about one yard as it falls. You watch him and every drive is the same. It's going to be right there. He's just so solid with his irons, too."
McMakin loves the rest of his squad, too. Echavarria and Ortiz have contended for the lead a lot this spring. Kim has been impressive as a true freshman. Senior Kolton Crawford has been up and down, but more up of late.
"We had four good players before Kim arrived," McMakin said. "But with him, we now know a bad round by someone else is not going to kill us. He's taken the pressure off of the rest of the squad.
"He's a very good player and is going to get better. He's sure not scared."
Apparently, nothing much bothers Kim. He was late for practice a couple of weeks back. McMakin unleashed on him as he strolled into the facility at The Blessings.
"I gave it to him pretty good," McMakin said. "Just trying to make a point. I thought he'd be rattled that day in our play. He wasn't. He just went out and played. And, that's how he is if there is a bad hole. It doesn't bother him. He just plays.
"That's rare for a freshman so I know he's going to be really good going forward. Really, our entire team is tough. They are not going to let things bother them."
McMakin said the goal is to make the cut for the final eight in match play, but he hopes that's not how everyone measures the college golf circuit these days.
"The field is really good now in college golf," he said. "I know some think if you don't make that cut to eight teams you didn't have a good year. If you are in the top 15, you played well. That's how good the field is this year."
Arkansas enters ranked 21st, but that's not really an accurate reflection of where this program is heading into the NCAA. Golf Week did a poll based on just spring results. The Hogs were ranked ninth.
"We've beaten about everyone in the field," McMakin said. "They've all beaten us, too. But we can get to that top eight. The SEC is just loaded from top to bottom and we were third there. So that tells you a lot.
"I feel good about the way we are playing. We head there with a lot of confidence.
"I thought our first round at Kohler wasn't real good. We were outside the top five. But I couldn't see that our players were worried. It was like, 'We are just fine. Don't worry, coach.' And they just were great the next two days."
Moore thinks the Hogs have a shot. He's been saying for several weeks that the Hogs are as good as anyone.
"I think we all know we are one of the best teams in the country," he said. "We got a lot of confidence when Charles joined our team. We just needed one more solid counter and he gave us that."