Hogs: Golf team eye regional title

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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas golf coach Brad McMakin and the rest of his team haven’t been shy about sharing their feelings as they prepare to host the NCAA’s Fayetteville Regional at The Blessings beginning today.

The Razorbacks are confident. Actually, they’re oozing with it. They’ll be shocked if anyone else navigates their unforgiving home course better over 54 holes this week.

“If we play good like we always do no one will be close to us,” said Arkansas junior Sebastian Cappelen, who won the Southeastern Conference title earlier this month. “Just knowing (the course), it’s not going to be fun for the other teams.”

Arkansas will take aim at an NCAA Regional title when it tees off at The Blessings this morning. The Razorbacks have plenty of reason for confidence simply being the No. 2 seed in a field that also includes 2012 national champion and top-seeded Texas, Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist, Kent State, Illinois, Liberty, Tulsa, Kentucky, Colorado, Indiana, UNC-Wilmington, UMKC and Alabama State.

The grueling course is an added bonus. It has the potential to frustrate teams because few have played it. So McMakin said the Razorbacks should have a distinct advantage as they aim for the program’s first regional title since 1991.

“No one knows what a good score is,” McMakin said. “There’s never been a tournament out here. We always go into a tournament and we project what we need to shoot that week and kind of get the guys into that mindset. Out here, none of the coaches are going to know. But we know what we shoot out here. And if we do our job and play the way we are capable of playing, we should win.”

It would be a noteworthy feat for a program enjoying plenty of success lately.

Arkansas golf has made its share of headlines the past few years, beginning with its surprising runner-up finish at the 2009 NCAA Championships. The Razorbacks have maintained their standing as a top 15 program, adding noteworthy individual performances like former Hog Ethan Tracy’s win at the Western Amateur in 2011, Cappelen’s SEC Championships win earlier this month, and former Arkansas golfer David Lingmerth’s second-place finish at last week’s PGA Players Championship.

McMakin said hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time is just another accomplishment in a golfing Renaissance, of sorts, for the program under his guidance. Arkansas has known it would be hosting a regional for some time now, but the timing feels right as the Razorbacks try to win one this year.

“It’s great that not only do we get to host, but we get to host when we have a good team,” McMakin said. “We’ve been working hard for the last six years, seven years to build the program up. We had a good run three, four years ago almost winning a national championship. But to maintain a level of top 15 after that every year, in this sport, is very difficult. We’ve got a great facility. We’ve gotten great support from (Arkansas athletic director) Jeff Long and that makes it all so much easier. But you still have to go out and get good players and develop them.

“This place, our facility, helps the kids get better. It’s a difficult golf course.”

McMakin said Arkansas’ playing five will consist of Cappelen, Thomas Sorensen, Austin Cook, Taylor Moore and Nicholas Echevar. He thinks their familiarity with The Blessings would be worth “six shots a round” for the Hogs over the field.

His team believes it too, but won’t be overconfident as it opens play in the three-round tournament. They understand anything can happen in NCAA Tournament play and the course can bite them as well if the Razorbacks aren’t careful.

But Cook said the Razorbacks are ready for every nuance after years of preparation at The Blessings. He smiled when asked how challenging it is for first-time players.

“I feel like a lot of course knowledge goes a long ways,” Cook said. “There’s a huge intimidation factor on his golf course, just by the way it looks. We’re not intimidated because we play it all the time. We know that the fairways are actually a lot bigger than what they look. That tall stuff that’s really not in the play, but people will think it is just because they’re so scared. So I think that’s really going to help us out.”

The top five finishers in the Fayetteville Regional field will advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Atlanta from May 28-June 2.

Arkansas has no doubt it will be among the group. But the Razorbacks want much more this week, expecting to win an NCAA Regional title on their home course.

“We’re ready to go,” McMakin said. “It’s been a year of anticipation and the team has been playing well. We’re ready to tee off as soon as possible.”

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