Hogs Hope To Retain Hot Hand At NCAAs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas played in the NCAA Men's Golf Championships eight times in the 1990s, but will make just its second NCAA appearance in the last six seasons when play begins today in the national tournament at Caves Valley Golf Course in Owings Mills, Md.

Josh Farrell, a junior from Springdale, is the only Razorback remaining from the 2003 team that placed a distant 27th in the NCAA Tournament with a team score of 83-over-par 947.

UA coach Mike Ketcham, in his fourth year with the program, has a young team that caught fire on the final day of the recent NCAA Central Regional at South Bend, Ind., blazing from 18th place to sixth with a 2-under-par 278.

The Razorbacks were ranked just 42nd by Golfweek, but they outscored No. 1 Oklahoma State by 15 strokes that day.

"We hit the ball a lot better the last day," said UA freshman Eric Shriver of Cary, N.C., who led the final-round charge with a 4-under-par 66.

All-America candidate Matt Bortis, a sophomore from Springfield, Mo., agreed.

"We finally played the way we should," Bortis said. "That gives us a lot of confidence going into nationals."

Ten of the 13 Razorbacks saw action this season, but Ketcham has settled on a five-man postseason rotation of Bortis, Shriver, Farrell, freshman Scotty Campbell of Conway and sophomore Beau Glover of Sherwood.

Campbell, who redshirted last season after injuring his back while lifting weights, came on to average 73.6 strokes per round this year.

"My back is still sore, but it's nothing Advil can't cure," he said. "This summer I'm just going to lift light weights and run."

Glover, who tied for 51st in the Southeastern Conference Championships, foresees better results ahead.

"All it takes is one week of everyone doing his part," Glover said. "I know we can play with anybody in the country if we go execute."

Farrell, after giving way to Barrett Lais in the SEC Tournament, returned to shoot 81-74-72 at Regionals.

"I'm looking to put four solid rounds together," Farrell said.

Ketcham said he believes the Arkansas program is on a solid foundation now, with 10 freshmen and two sophomores returning next season.

Freshman Drew Lethem of Overland Park, Kan., has left the team, but UA punter Jeremy Davis of Fort Smith could possibly contribute in the future after redshirting in golf this year.

"Our goal this year was to play our best golf at the end of the season, and at South Bend we did that," Ketcham said. "I told our guys anything could happen in the last round, and sure enough, we went out there and played with an attitude.

"There were leaderboards all over the course, so I knew we were in contention. Coach (Mike) Holder of Oklahoma State had said that golf course would definitely produce the best teams because of its outstanding layout, and it did. We had our best comeback since I've been here."

Noting that Arkansas has had four of the best 10 rounds shot by any SEC team this season, Ketcham said, "Youth is not afraid."

Five other SEC teams -- Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky -- will join Arkansas at Caves Valley, a Tom Fazio-designed course with bent-grass greens and rye fairways.

"The key to us is our putting," Ketcham said. "We had averaged 32 putts a round this season until we averaged 28.4 in the last round at Regionals. That's about what the PGA Tour average is.

"With golf equipment today, most college kids hit the ball about the same -- 10 to 13 greens in regulation per round."

Bortis, a confident sort, can assure All-America status by finishing in the top 10 this week.

"I love the whole mental thing of being in the hunt," he said. "That's why I play."

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