Cowboys Reflect On Winning Golf Title

The scene on the 18th hole at the Crosswater Golf Club in Sunriver Resort, Ore., on Saturday was a joyous one for any Oklahoma State fan. The four Cowboy golfers converging on teammate Jonathan Moore after he had putted out for par to finish his round of 69 clinching the team and individual championship at the NCAA Tournament.

There were two coaches, head coach Mike McGraw and much valued assistant Alan Bratton, in on the embrace as well along with a senior, a junior, a sophomore, a redshirt freshman, and a freshman. Every person in the group embrace had counted on the others, and for four rounds in the NCAA Tournament the group bond had held strong against the best competition in college golf - Oklahoma State had won the 2006 NCAA National Championship.

"I think that kind of spoke volumes as to what this group meant to each other," said McGraw. "As this season went on this group grew closer and closer to each other kind of like brothers, so it was really good."

It was a very shared and common experience. It was the kind of pressure that causes a senior like Zack Robinson and Pablo Martin, the Player of the Year in college golf, to shank their tee shots on the first hole. It was something that all of them other than true freshman Trent Leon had experienced before.

"The kids kind of understood what the week was all about and the second thing they understood was the pressure was not something you shy away from," continued McGraw. "You had to understand you were going to be as nervous as you could possibly be. You had to understand that you were not going to be able to breath. Your hands are going to shake and you are going to be feeling emotions that you haven't felt before. By dealing with that and understanding that it was coming their way they were better able to deal with it.

Pablo (Martin), it was so interesting, actually told me, ‘Coach, I was choking to death on the back nine and I could hardly breath.' I told him, 'Great! That's the way it is supposed to feel' and he played pretty good in spite of that. He understands that it was not because he was playing for himself, but for his other four teammates, for the five teammates that didn't make the trip, for the former players, for all the donors, and for everybody at Oklahoma State, and that kind of got to him a little bit and he realized this is a lot bigger than I am. Playing for a team is a lot more pressure."

Besides the younger Leon and Moore, the other Cowboy golfers were there at the 2005 NCAA Tournament, the last under legendary coach and now athletic director Mike Holder. They had felt the extreme disappointment of being ranked number one and favored to win a national title only to finish in 15th place (as they did a year ago). They also understand coming in that they will be dealing with huge expectations, that is a given with Oklahoma State golf.

"When they were recruited by Oklahoma State, when they choose to come, eyes wide open, they understood this is a big deal and we really expect you to come in and be serious about it," said McGraw, who last year was the head coach of the OSU women's team after serving many years as an assistant to Holder with the men. "When they go in as the number one team in the country and finish 15th they have to realize that is not acceptable. When we finished (this year) fourth in the conference championship that was our worst finish the entire year in a stroke play tournament. We had not finished lower than third, and that's a conference tournament. That's for keeps, they give out a trophy and it's down there in Norman right now. I'm not happy about it and nobody on the team is happy about it. The fact that we played poorly ourselves added deep salt to the wound. It was a great wake up call and we needed to re-evaluate. I don't think any of us were mentally ready to play that tournament and when we re-evaluated that a lot of words flew through the air in that team meeting. It aired everything out and was wonderful. We grew as a team after that."

Senior Zack Robinson agreed with McGraw. An emotional player that has poured his heart and soul into the program over his time in Stillwater, Robinson said last year's experience and a subsequent story in The Oklahoman newspaper that featured a team picture and labeled the team as "chokers" all factored in to the work, dedication, and performance that delivered the results in Oregon last week.

"The experience last year was huge for us. The article hurt, but it was true we had the best team and we just played terrible," said Robinson, who was named the Byron Nelson Award winner which goes to a senior golfer for excellence on and off the golf course. "That was only going to help us and it was fair. We had to take it in the right way."

So does Robinson still have that article? "I don't think so," said Robinson. "If I did I'd burn it now. It was good for us not then, but now it was good for us."

Instead of an article from this year's NCAA tournament Robinson, who has hugged that NCAA Championship trophy almost nonstop since it was presented to the team, has a memory that will last forever.

"I believed in the four guys I was going out there with and in our coaches," said Robinson. "I had a good feeling going out there and the whole week built up from the first day we got there. We just kept getting our minds ready for the next day. It was better and better each day. I'm the oldest, but I think I may have been the most nervous. This was do or die for me. I started to feel really good after I made the turn (in the fourth round). I was doing well and I saw on the board we had a chance. The whole back nine was intense. Every shot was pressure, but that's the way it is supposed to be. You want to feel it."

He was still as proud as he could be 48 hours since the tournament ended and it's a pride that seems like it will never wear off.

"Today I am so proud to be a Cowboy," said a still emotional Robinson after helping OSU win their 10th NCAA golf title.

Robinson said he will play amateur golf this summer and likely try the PGA qualifying school in the fall. Two of his teammates, Martin and Moore, spent Monday in Eugene, Ore., for the sectional qualifying for the upcoming U.S. Open. As for McGraw, who now tries to top winning the NCAA in his first year as head coach, he's got to think about the future too.

"I go recruiting in Houston tomorrow," replied McGraw.

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