Championship Q&A: Conrad Ray

Like a bellowing roll of thunder, Stanford Men's Golf rumbled through the 2007 NCAA Championship this week in awesome fashion. At the center of this masterpiece accomplishment and season is third-year head coach and former Cardinal golfer Conrad Ray. Hours after hoisting hardware, Ray spoke in-depth with The Bootleg about his players, the course, the final day, the national title and much more.

I never asked you during the week, but I heard a couple time guys commented on this.  Why is it that Golden Horseshoe set up well for Stanford?

"I think it's one of those courses where keeping it in play was premium.  You had to drive the ball pretty straight and putt the ball pretty well.  All of those things, we've done consistently okay this year.  It just felt right.  It wasn't the type of course where you had to shoot five-under every round to have a chance.  Even-par was a pretty good score.  That being said, the guys felt like it was a good match-up for their games."

For Stanford to lead after every day of the tournament, that's pretty fun.  But at the same time, how did you talk to the guys and help them navigate the stress and pressure that comes from every team gunning for them every hole of every day?

"I think the biggest thing is that I was just trying to be calm when I talked with the guys and was out there on the course with them.  I think that they get a sense of where we're at sometimes just by my demeanor.  Then it's easy for them to keep playing and going.  I was just trying to be calm and confident.  I think that the other thing was we just tried to keep worrying about our own business.  The guys did a good job of that.  They weren't looking over their shoulder a whole lot.  They knew that they had their hands full just worrying about their own games.  They were able to stick to that, and I think it paid off."

Statistically, Stanford shot the worst today of the four days as a team, yet you guys expanded your lead over the field the most of the four days.  Do you chalk that up to the course getting that much more difficult each day this week?

"I think it was a little of that.  I also think it is one of those courses where if you try to start hunting down flags and taking big shots at the greens that aren't conservative, the course can really come up and bite you.  There is some pretty severe bunkering and some narrow areas where they stuck the flags today, that if you missed it long or short by maybe 10 yards, you were in trouble.  I think that with all of the teams gunning for us, there were a few teams that made a run up the leaderboard the middle of the day, but no one was able to stick there.  And the conditions were tougher.  It was firmer and faster, and the wind was blowing a little bit more today.  The guys really stuck it out, and it paid off."

When I asked you after Day Three about that huge run that Coastal Carolina made - 12-under for the day and six strokes up on you at one point - you made the comment to me that guys are somewhat sheltered from the leaderboard.  Can you describe what they can or cannot see?  And what were you the coach able to follow through the 18 holes today?

"I had my handheld.  I was tuned into GolfStat, so I was in tune with the live scoring.  I also also camped out on all the par-three's, helping navigate those shots, which is pretty challenging.  I could get a pretty good sense of where we were at.  There were just a few leaderboards on the back nine, and they were able to glance at those.  There not any individual leaderboards, and you couldn't get a true sense of where teams were because it didn't say through what hole they had played.  I try to stay away from the live scoring until the back nine most days because it changes so much, and you can drive yourself crazy hitting the refresh button.  But it was pretty exciting."

Can you remember a moment in today's action when you looked at the score, did a little mental math with the number of holes left and the 12-stroke or so lead, and you said, 'My God, we're going to win this thing'?

"After we got through the 12th hole, which is a really difficult downhill par-three over water, and we did a pretty good job.  We had one guy who struggled, Matt Savage, but the rest of us had par or birdie.  After we had gotten through that hole, I felt a little more calm.  I watched a couple of the guys from Coastal Carolina have trouble with the water, and I felt like if we got through that hole and didn't have many major blow-ups, then we would be in good shape.  The rest of it, you just hope that guys continue to hit solid shots and sign the correct scorecard.  It's never really over until it's over.  So it was pretty nerve-racking all the way up until the end, but it felt pretty good to look up at that leaderboard on 16 or 17 and have a 10- or 12-shot lead.  I think it was actually up to 16 at one point, so that was pretty exciting."

First off the tee for you guys this morning was your freshman, Joseph Bramlett, and he birdied two out of the first three and had a really good front nine.  He had a great tournament outside of that first day.  Do you think that a freshman playing on this biggest stage had some adjustments and jitters to deal with the first day, and he conquered that the rest of the way?

"I do.  I also think that if you take away the 10th hole on his scorecard the entire week, he jumps way up on the list.  He had a couple problems on 10 with some doubles and a triple or a quad.  He had a weird deal where he hit a tree the first round; it bounced back and hit his club, which is a two-shot penalty.  But he hung in there tremendously.  To see a young guy like that have some first-day troubles and then not shoot a score over par the last three rounds of a National Championship is pretty impressive.  I think it speaks volumes for what he can do as a player, and the trajectory he is on as far as Stanford Golf goes."

I think your two low players today were Joe and Daniel Lim, both one-under.  Daniel had a lot of pars to start, but he more importantly avoided a lot of bogeys and had no big numbers.  Was today a day to be really proud of him?

"Huge.  It's amazing.  Daniel has played pretty much all season as our fifth or sixth guy.  For the way he has played these last two tournaments, at the Regional and now the NCAAs, it's just amazing.  He was the guy like other coaches you talk to say: you need one or two guys to come up and shine.  Although he might not get many of the accolades, a guy like Lim, who never quits and keeps trying to make pars and fight it out, is a big reason for our success.  I'm excited for him.  He played like a champ today, and that paid off."

Rob Grube had his hottest round the first day of the tournament and obviously played well the rest of the way.  For him to finish third after his difficulties and adjustments this up-and-down season, what would you say about his finish and his play this week?

"I think it was a great week.  To finish third in this field is quite impressive.  I think it was neat, too, because he did have a chance at the individual [championship].  He had a putt at 17 to get to eight-under, and he was definitely grinding on that.  He happened to lip it out.  And then he made a so-so bogey on the last hole, missing a short putt.  He was right there.  Rob is one of the best players in the country.  I was surprised he didn't make First-Team All-American.  I think he probably deserved it.  I think that's just how it goes.  He had one of those years where he helped us tremendously.  He had some good wins individually.  I'm guessing that he now has a great summer of amateur golf.  He's been rock solid all year."

Once you guys had the team championship basically wrapped up, were you aching and hoping for him get a couple birdies at the end to catch that individual crown?

"No question.  Jamie Lovemark, the winner, is a phenomenal player and a phenomenal talent.  He's won a lot in our conference.  But Rob is a competitive guy, and I think he can play with Jamie.  For him to have a shot at that, to maybe spoil Jamie's celebration a little bit, is something he wanted to do.  The other thing is that Rob has a really close relationship with Sandy Tatum.  Stanford has only had two individual champions in the history of the program, and that's Sandy Tatum and Tiger [Woods].  Two guys over that span of time is a pretty elite crew.  Rob is actually on Mr. Tatum's scholarship, which is an interesting thing.  They've struck up a nice relationship.  It meant a lot to him to give that a run, and I'm sure he'll come back with a vengeance next year.  He's already set that as one of his goals."

They announced today 10 First-Team All-Americans, where you sure would think some Stanford guys, the way they've played this week and this season, would be included.  That's disappointing for none of them to be there, but does it also speak volumes to what this team is all about?  Stanford may not in some people's eyes have any of the top 10 players in the country, yet you can still as a team blow away this field by 12 strokes...

"The bottom line is that it's a team game.  Congrats to the guys who were named First-Team All-American.  We might have some guys named to the Second and Third Teams, but I think that the reason why we're all here is to play for the team championship.  To have that in our grasp is pretty special."

"You know, I think that the more the Western Region is represented at the Nationals - that's been a shift in the trend the last 10 years of college golf.  It's always been a Southeast-dominated or an East Coast type of thing.  I think four out of the last six years, a Western school has won.  In my mind, you look at the number of teams ranked in the top 10 or 12 from the West all season, to only have a couple guys on that First Team was a little surprising.  But the committee does a good job of trying to identify who the best players are.  I think that if nothing else, it's good motivation for next year for some of these guys."

Speaking of motivation, did I hear correctly that the NCAA released seedings for this tournament, and Stanford was the 12th seed?

"Yeah, we did get the 12th seed.  What's interesting about that is that they do have an NCAA Golf Committee, which takes the final GolfStat rankings with your finish at the Regional.  Being that we were seventh out of our West Region, that means maybe a 20- or 21-seed nationally just based on the Regional finish.  Then when you combine that with a second or third GolfStat ranking, 12th is where we shook out.  The only big difference in seeding is tee times - when you play.  It actually helped us to be in the first wave of teams.  We were the last team in the morning wave, and it helped us in terms of our rest and stuff like that.  A lot of that seeding stuff is just based on where you finish at the Regional."

So that's not something where you can say there was a group of people who slighted you?

"Not at all.  It's pretty clear that they take a combination of the two.  I guess that's my rationalization of the whole situation.  It actually probably helped the guys and helped us.  No one was talking a bit about Stanford Golf winning a National Championship.  Even the guys on GolfWeek and some of the guys who cover this week-in and week-out, they were basically apologizing for not having mentioned Stanford Golf even in the mix this week.  All the guys on our team take that as motivation.  'Well, let's show them.'  It was fun for them to play well and be able to prove a few people wrong."

I know that you had a big turnaround plan, and now all of a sudden you've won a National Championship in just your third year.  What statement does this make, and where does this say that Stanford Golf is today and is heading?

"We're definitely still building.  The future looks bright.  We're going to continue to build on this, and this is great momentum for not just next year but for years to come in terms of recruiting and what we're trying to do."

But it's safe to say that this is ahead of the schedule you had in mind, right?

"To me, I was just hoping to put the guys in a better spot.  We've started to accomplish that, to prepare the guys and put them in a position where winning might be a possibility.  Whether that's a tournament or National Championship or whatever that is.  I think we're doing a better job of that.  The outcome stuff just kind of takes care of itself.  It definitely is a blessing to have this come within the first two or three years.  This group of guys is pretty special, so we're hopefully just going to build on that."

I know that this is all just a few hours old, but any calls or text messages come in from recruits?  When you send text messages now, is it an amazing and powerful feeling to be a National Champion?  You can talk to recruits in a different position than you could have just a few months ago...

"Yeah, it's a great thing.  A lot of the alums have touched base.  I'm trying to respond to as many people as I can.  The number of emails and phone calls is just a great feeling.  We're going to ride the high for a while and celebrate.  I think that it definitely helps us in all facets, so we're really excited about it."

I know the GolfWeek guys alluded to this question, and you artfully deflected it.  But was there any communication with Tiger either before today or after today?

"Yeah.  It's funny because Tiger and I go way back, and we're old college buddies.  The texts that he sends probably aren't worth talking about on TV.  But he was definitely keeping in touch.  It's funny because he's been watching.  I had been getting a number of phone calls, emails and text messages after we had won.  Then I guess he mentioned the finish on CBS when they interviewed him after he finished his round today at the Memorial.  The phone just blew up.  It was pretty crazy.  It's been a whirlwind since."

Did he offer last night or before today's round some words of wisdom or a pep talk to the guys?

"He sent a couple messages that were pretty intuitive and he encouraged me to pass along to the guys to do everything in their power to shoot the lowest round possible that they could that day.  That's pretty trite, but it's really true.  Every shot matters, whether it's the first shot on the first day or the final putt.  It all adds up.  The guys use that as inspiration and motivation.  The sense of winning and expectation carries over from what he does.  No question."

I know it's very soon to talk about this, but you were a member of the 1994 roster that last won.  You take home another National Championship today.  I'm sure they feel very different, so what are the different emotions for you then and now?  Is one sweeter?

"For me, I was carrying a lot of luggage in '94 when I was a part of that.  This one is awful sweet for me, just because you put so much time and effort into each guy individually.  You see their growth as people, what they have had to overcome and where we were three years ago.  In 2004, we were ranked like 65th or 70th in the country.  To go from that to a top program that is winning a National Championship is pretty neat.  That probably makes this one a little more special."

"Both teams are awesome.  The neat thing for me is to know the relationships that I had with those teammates back when we won, I can see those forming for the guys who won today and how they'll carry those friendships and relationships the rest of their lives.  That's pretty special."


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