UA Golf Teams Count Their Blessings

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's no coincidence that in their first full year to practice and play at the Blessings Golf Club in Johnson, the Arkansas men's and women's golf teams both qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

Matt Bortis, a potential All-American for the UA men's team which finished sixth in the NCAA Central Regional last week, said Tuesday, "We don't see anything like the Blessings all year in college golf. Our home facility is so good that it gives us a lot of confidence on other courses."

Lady Razorbacks golf coach Kelley Hester sent a note to Blessings owner John Tyson on Tuesday, thanking him for the use of the club's facilities. The Lady'Backs tied for 11th in their first-ever NCAA Tournament last week at Sunriver, Ore.

"Our new home course helps in so many ways," Hester said. "First is recruiting. But I also saw a difference in how our team played difficult holes this year. We see tough holes on a daily basis at home, and so we're less fazed by difficult holes in tournaments."

Arkansas men's coach Mike Ketcham pointed out that during the Razorbacks' final round at South Bend, Ind., last week in which they shot from 18th place to sixth in the Central Regional, they handled the tough ninth, 10th and 11th holes well.

"I felt those would be the key holes," Ketcham said. "We got off to a great start and we were able to sustain our good play."

In that final round, Arkansas outscored No. 1 Oklahoma State by 15 strokes and posted the only under-par team score of the three-day tournament.

"That gives us a lot of confidence," said UA freshman Scotty Campbell of Conway. "Oklahoma State is one of the best teams in college golf and now we know we can compete with them and beat them."

Ketcham commended Arkansas junior Josh Farrell of Springdale, whose final-round 72 included birdies at Nos. 2, 4, 15 and 16.

"We need Josh's leadership on a young team, and he came through for us," Ketcham said.

Ketcham had decided to walk with UA freshman Eric Shriver the entire final round, and the result was a sizzling 4-under-par 66 by the Cary, N.C., native.

"Eric had tied for 10th in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and I felt he would be a key player at Regionals," Ketcham said. "He was the third player out on the course in the last round, and he birdied the first and fifth holes to set the tone."

Shriver, like Bortis, didn't look at the leaderboards, but he sensed that the Hogs were making a run.

"I just really felt confident," Shriver said. "I had been working a lot on my short game. Our practice facilities at the Blessings are unbelievable -- no one else has anything like them. We even have a pot bunker."

Bortis, a personable red-headed sophomore from Springfield, Mo., didn't know until he reached the 15th hole of the final round that Arkansas had moved up to seventh place.

"I had no clue," Bortis said. "Then on No. 17, coach Ketcham told me we were in by two strokes."

UA assistant Grant Oswalt said, "We wouldn't necessarily tell everyone that. But Matt is pretty bullet-proof. The last hole required a 240-yard carry over water, with trouble also on the left, but we knew Matt could handle it."

Bortis beamed.

"That buzz is why I play," he said. "I love being in the hunt, the adrenaline and the whole mental thing. It's a lot of fun."

Ketcham had encouraged the Hogs the night before the final round to play more aggressively from 135 yards in -- to go for more pins.

Beau Glover, a sophomore from Sherwood, said, "Josh and I were talking that night, and we just kinda got the feeling we were going to play well. There was no pressure on us, like the teams in seventh to 12th place. Nobody was thinking about us."

The Hogs were paired with Lamar, another hot final-day team that rose from 15th to within a shot of qualifying for nationals.

Bortis said, "I think we were nervous the first two days, but on the last day everyone relaxed."

At the NCAA Championships at Caves Valley in Baltimore, Md., June 1-4, Bortis could secure All-America honors by finishing in the Top 10.

"That's been a goal of mine," he said.

Stacy Lewis, a Lady'Backs freshman, has already been named an All-American -- the first in UA women's golf history.

Lewis and Amanda McCurdy made All-SEC, while Lewis and Gena Johnson were All-SEC Scholar-Athletes.

"I was very proud of how we held ourselves at nationals," Hester said. "We acted like we'd been there before, and other coaches noticed. They said, ‘Wow -- you guys are doing good!'"

The Lady'Backs just missed the Top 10 -- Hester's year-long goal -- by two strokes.

Ketcham was proud that seven of his players made grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher -- a program best in his four years as coach.

Lewis has succeeded in the first phase of U.S. Women's Open qualifying with a 77 at Royal Oaks in Vancouver, Wash.

McCurdy, by finishing second at the Women's Amateur last summer, is in the Open field at Cherry Hills in Denver, Colo., June 23-26.

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