Stevens: No. 6 Lobos Seek To End Mountain West Drought in Tucson

May 1, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Golf at the Mountain West Championships

When/Where: Friday-Saturday-Sunday - OMNI Tucson National Resort
The Lobos: Benjamin Bauch, John Catlin, James Erkenbeck, Gavin Green, Victor Perez
The Teams: New Mexico, Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The Glen Millican Lobos have team titles, individual titles, a national ranking and James Erkenbeck has even holed a spot on the U.S. Palmer Cup team.

But there is one thing none of these Lobos have ever slipped into their golf bag: a Mountain West championship.

"Nobody on this team has won a conference tournament and it's something they want to do," said Millican. "We need to go play well in Tucson and give ourselves a chance to win a conference tournament and fit in with some of the other sports at this school."

Said Lobo John Catlin: "Winning conference definitely sends a statement."

The Lobos have made a lot of statements on the golf course in 2012-13 and carry a No. 6 ranking to Tucson National. They are heavy favorites to return to the MW throne and topple two-time defending champion San Diego State, which is ranked No. 52 by Golfstat. UNLV is No. 35.

Obviously, the Lobos are the top dogs in the 54-hole hunt and probably the more compelling question is who will win the individual title. UNM's last individual champ was Steve Saunders in 2009.

The top dogs in the individual race are UNM's James Erkenbeck (71.52 average), Air Force's Kyle Westmoreland (71.90), SDSU's Tom Berry (71.94), SDSU's Xander Schauffele (72.18), UNM's Gavin Green (72.24), CSU's Parker Edens (72.38) and CSU's Kirby Pettitt (72.41).

However, there are 17 golfers in the field with a stroke average under 73 (six golfers with individual wins) including Lobos Victor Perez (72.67), Benjamin Bauch (72.69) and John Catlin (72.94).

You can see why the Lobos are so good - and favored. They field a solid five that often plays sensational team golf.

In a way, this MW run in Tucson doesn't look like it will be played on even ground: the Lobos already have won two tournaments this season on Tucson soil.

"We feel good about our opportunity to play a course we've been on a lot," said Millican. "We know if we play well over there we will shoot some good numbers."

UNM's Catlin, a senior, says this week's Mountain West tourney will be the eighth time as a Lobo that he has played a tournament on the Tucson National track.

"I'm very, very familiar with that golf course," he said. "I know what to expect. Every time you tee up on a course where you've won, you're like, `Hey, I can draw on that experience. I've done this before. I can do it again.'

"I'd like to at least win one conference championship when I'm here, especially on a good team like this. This is our best chance to do it, so I definitely want to do it this year, for sure."

The Lobos could be looking at the MW chase as a warm-up for NCAA Regionals - and it is that. The Lobos are a lock to advance into NCAA play.

But the Lobos on this roster have never brought home a Mountain West title and league titles are part of UNM's tradition. The Lobos are the only program to win four MW crowns in a row (2003 to 2006).

"Winning the conference championship means a little more than some of the other tournaments we've played in," said Erkenbeck. "We're going to be hungry to win it.

"We have been playing well all year so we are just going to go out and play our game and that should take care of it. It's not about thinking we are favorites and should win. It's about playing our best golf."

The Lobos will be paired with the two teams they likely need to slap down in Tucson: San Diego State and UNLV. The largest winning team margin in the MW tourney is 23 strokes, set by UNLV in 2000.

Erkenbeck was UNM's top finisher in 2012 when he finished tied for fifth place at two-under. CSU's Pettitt and SDSU's Berry also finished at two-under. UNM's Green was one-under last year.

"The course is going to allow some good scores," said Erkenbeck. "You have to make some birdies and limit your mistakes. There aren't that many hard holes, but there aren't that many super-easy holes. It's hard for separation."

For the Lobos, the separation they need in Tucson is pretty much the separation they have created all year. If they do it again this weekend, they'll finally bring home a Mountain West trophy.

"For some reason, we've struggled a little bit playing (MW tourney) at Tucson National," said Catlin. "This year, our team is just playing too good."