Apr 25

University of Oregon Golf: Or Would You Rather Be a Duck?

You can pretty much name the sport. If you’re going to visit Texas, there’ll be somebody who knows how to play it, and probably from pretty well to stellar. That includes golf. Texas has contributed players like Ben Crenshaw, Ben Hogan, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard, Byron Nelson, Lee Trevino and Babe Didrikson to the pro ranks, and the college game is pretty hefty as well. So what did the men of the University of Oregon’s Golf Team think they were doing, taking on much of the country’s lower left half at the Aggie Invitational? You’d have to take a good look at University of Oregon golf, and the new winning attitude on the Eugene campus.

Texas, ranked #1, and Texas A&M were there in force, the Aggies playing host. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were present as well. Incidentally, that state has served up Gil Morgan, Rickie Fowler, Scott Verplank, Bruce Lietzke and Stacy Prammanasudh over the years. New Mexico, with a much smaller population, brought its team, with the ground-breaking background of Notah Begay III and Nancy Lopez as great sources of pride. Baylor was there, bigger than a lot of towns up in the Northwest all by itself.

You can’t judge all the sports in an athletic department by the football program, but come to think of it, go right ahead, because that’s been going pretty well, too. It’s also possible that the university of Oregon golf program thrives in a climate that’s a good training ground for young golfers. It gives you plenty of opportunities to work with the problems of nature, from the gorgeous but soggy courses of the Willamette Valley (perhaps the splendid Eugene Country Club to a number of courses in Portland) to the coastal winds (like the world-ranked Bandon Dunes Resort) and the rocky, twisting central plains, where championship tournaments have been played on the Sun River Resort courses for years. Contrary to popular opinion, Oregonians know how to play in the sunshine as well. Once the sunny season finally hits, it’s magnificent.

Oregon barely tops three million in population, but has had Bob Gilder, Peter Jacobsen, Allison Hanna-Williams and Ben Crane play through on the tours. But back to Texas – what were the results? It might sound odd, but Oregon won the Aggie Invitational by eleven strokes. The two Texas schools tied for second with the Oklahoma schools coming in fourth and fifth. New Mexico and Baylor brought up the rear. As it turns out, that isn’t the first winning habit Oregon has produced in the past year or two. The Ducks play a considerable tour in California during their season, and they have prevailed in the St. Marys Invitational (played on courses such as the Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Club – sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?), The Prestige (on a Greg Norman Course – PGA West in Palm Desert) and the Alistar McKenzie Invitational in Fairfax. They followed up by looming large at the U.S. Intercollegiate, a gathering of western yeams. Even at home, in the Oregon Ducks Invitational, they didn’t let down.

So, what’s next for the enigmatic Ducks of Eugene? The obvious answer is the Pac-12 Championships, a new powerhouse of western programs that will duke it out in every sport, in every year. That means USC, UCLA and Stanford (Tiger’s alma mater), and the perennially strong Arizona teams. Oh yes, the Huskies of Seattle will be there.

Much like it does in football, winning the Pac-12 Championship is a required step toward a national championship, where other powers such as Purdue lie in wait. That’s a scary proposition, but I believe that University of Oregon golf is beginning to think of itself as worthy to pursue that prize. Just ask Texas and the others. That state up north with the small population is playing some pretty good golf., and they’re showing up in all kinds of places.

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