Brad McMakin has this Arkansas golf team in the same mindset as last season when a hot finish produced a string of second-place finishes, including a near miss at the NCAA championships. The Razorbacks think they can win with a little help from Mother Nature.
"We just want the wind to blow," said junior Jamie Marshall. "That's in our favor. The tougher the conditions, the better we like it."
The wind does usually blow at Seaside Golf Club at St. Simons Island, Ga., where the Hogs should be one of the contenders Friday through Sunday in the SEC men's golf championships. The Hogs will take a talented and deep team to Georgia.
Marshall and senior David Lingmerth could both contend for the individual title, but all five of the Razorback entries have had top 10s on the season. Lingmerth, who averages 71.55, has shot an incredible 7-over par in his 29 tournament rounds on the season.
"We took our lumps playing the young guys in the fall, but it's paid off in the spring," said McMakin, in his fourth season at the UA helm. "We've beaten Oklahoma State, and they are No. 1. We finished second, seven back of then No. 1 Oregon at their tournament. We've played excellent. Our guys have confidence and think they can win if we do our thing.
"We should be able to compete in the next three events we play in if we stay consistent."
The Hogs came out of the gate slowly after losing ace Andrew Landry from last year's NCAA runners-up squad. They were as high as 58th in the national poll before jumping to 28th last month with a string of strong outings.
"That may be our ranking, but we've played better than that lately," Marshall said. "We've got a good team with great competitors. We have the desire it takes."
McMakin was talking about the SEC tournament, then NCAA competition. The Hogs should be a lock for a regional title and would like to be sent to Notre Dame where they've been successful in a fall outing the last couple of seasons.
The Hogs are so strong they are leaving talented sophomore Ethan Tracy at home. They've gone to several tournaments with six-man fields this year because qualifying has been so tight.
"We've traveled six a lot," McMakin said. "I thought we were that good that I wanted to see them all in tournaments. And we've had more qualifying at home. It's been tight, but that's the fair way to do it, qualify every week."
The Hogs have as tough a home course as there is in college golf at The Blessings. Freshmen Austin Cook and Josh Eure outplayed Tracy down the stretch to earn the final two spots in the lineup.
"We got all six of them at least five tournaments in the spring and they earned their way into the lineup," McMakin said. "Ethan is a good player, but we settled it in good competition.
"Our freshman are very good. They are not afraid of tough situations and they want to win. They are very mature for their age. They have golf games that are above the norm for freshmen.
"Austin had a chance to win in Oregon. So did Josh. They've played well all spring. If I grade them for the spring, they both would get an A.
"Austin is very straight and consistently gives us 70 to 75. He's been in the 60s, too. Josh has a little more resources with power and can go low. He can play really hard golf courses and still play well. He's had some days where he looked like a fifth-year senior.
"We have a great combination in that four/five spots. Austin has the consistency and Josh has the power. They are able to brother-in-law their games and do a good job."
Lingmerth, native of Sweden, has only been out of the top eight twice all season. Only Craig Lile's stroke average of 69.30 in 2000-01 is better in the UA record books.
"He's been phenomenal considering we've played in a lot of bad weather," McMakin said. "His world ranking is seventh. He's the top European player in college golf. He's playing well. I look forward to seeing him have a great postseason.
"He hits it really straight and his iron game is fantastic. His short game is there. He's well-rounded and consistent.
"He may be one of the best competitors I've ever seen. He bores you with his consistency. It doesn't look that incredible except when you add it up and he's always right there."
Marshall said he's tried to learn from Lingmerth, especially when it comes to grinding.
"That's what David does," Marshall said. "He grinds. I've studied the way he plays and tried to take some of that from him. You don't let a bad shot get to you."
Marshall doesn't hit many bad ones. McMakin said he's one of the straightest drivers he's ever coached.
"You look at his drives and they are never off by much," McMakin said. "Really straight. That's really a strength of this entire team. The tougher the conditions, the tougher the course, the more severe the rough, the better we like it."
Seaside Golf Club is a position course.
"Kind of tight with a lot of placement off the tee," McMakin said. "But we need the wind to blow. It usually does there. It's right on the bay. I looked at the weather today and it was blowing 25 to 35. I don't know what it's going to be on the weekend, but we'd like that. It would really favor our team.
"We don't want easy conditions. We want the scores to be over par. We don't want it to be a putting contest."
That's the area the Hogs need to improve.
"We spend all of our time on the short game," Marshall said. "We can do well tee to green, but our short game needs improvement. When we practice, we are working on our putting and the other areas of the short game."
McMakin thinks Lingmerth should be in the hunt for the individual title.
"He had his average under 69 at one point, then we played some tough courses in the wind and it went up a little bit," McMakin said. "This is the best I've felt about his game all year, though. He's really ready.
"If he putts well he can win. He may be the best player in the SEC. If he putts well, he'll contend."
McMakin said the team took advantage of the tough winter with some great practice. But the range was covered in ice and snow -- so how did that work?
"We have a great facility, a wonderful indoor facility," he said. "We really practiced well during that time. Plus, we have a lot of guys from northern areas. That didn't bother them. When we could get out, we did.
"Obviously, we hit a lot of balls. It didn't set us back. Missing two weeks of golf didn't even faze them. It didn't freak them out and we just rolled with it."
Cook, the freshman from Jonesboro, reminds McMakin of Landry, another little guy. He stands only 5-7.
"He is like Andrew in that he doesn't look very big, but he hits it a long, long way," McMakin said. "He had a great junior career, but he has really played a little better than I expected. I think he's going to have a great career. He is a spitting image of Landry.
"If we can get him to be a three-time All-American like Andrew, we'll sure take it. He's actually further along than Andrew was as a freshman."
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