Lobo Golf Men on Quest to Erase Past Regional Nightmares
May 15, 2013
NCAA Men's Golf Columbus Regional
Time: Thursday-Saturday, 6 a.m. MT tee times
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Teams: New Mexico, Stanford, Auburn, South Carolina, Missouri, UNLV, Texas Tech, Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, San Francisco, Virginia, Charlotte, Valparaiso
Format: Five players/team; top four scores count toward daily total score
Qualifying: Top five teams advance to the NCAA Championship
By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's not often that you get a chance to erase a nightmare. This weekend, the University of New Mexico men's golf team has a chance to erase one.
Fifth-year senior James Erkenbeck has a chance to erase two.
The Lobos, the No. 5 team in the country according to both Golfweek.com and Golfstat.com, will be the top seed at the NCAA Columbus Regional, which takes place Thursday-Saturday on the Scarlet Course at The Ohio State University Golf Club.
The task before the Lobos is simple - at least in explanation. They must finish in the top five among the 13 teams competing in the 54-hole regional to advance to the NCAA Championship in Alpharetta, Ga., from May 28-June 2. The format is the same as in-season events. Five players comprise the team with the top four scores in each round counting in the team score.
The team, and Erkenbeck in particular, know the requirement to advance only too well. Last season, UNM finished sixth in the NCAA Regional in Athens, Ga., one stroke behind fifth-place Iowa.
And in 2009, the Lobo team that included Erkenbeck as a true freshman, finished sixth out of 13 teams at the NCAA Regional in Daly City, Calif., lagging one stroke behind fifth-place and then-No. 2 USC.
Those two events have been the cause of a lot of sleepless nights for Erkenbeck.
"When you come that close, those kind of tournaments stick with you," says Erkenbeck, the 17th-ranked collegiate golfer (as rated by Golfweek.com). "Regionals have definitely been in the back of my mind. We have to make sure we play our game and get through this time."
Erkenbeck, the current Mountain West Player of the Year, is the only one of the five Lobos - UNM will go with its usual lineup of Erkenbeck and fellow seniors Benjamin Bauch and John Catlin, and sophomores Gavin Green and Victor Perez - to have actually played on the Ohio State course, having played there for a U.S. Open sectional qualifier last year.
"You can't fake your way around it there," Lobo coach and reigning MW Coach of the Year Glen Millican says. "You've got to get the ball in play off the tee. You've got to pay attention to where you leave it around the greens. If you're short-sided there, you can have a difficult time getting up and down.
"It's a course that commands our attention; it'll be a great challenge."
The Lobos have risen to the occasion already several times this season. They have four wins on the season, including the Mountain West Championship from May 3-5 in Tucson - a tournament they were expected to win and did.
New Mexico also has four runner-up finishes this year. The team also led after the first two rounds in its last two regular-season events, the ASU Thunderbird Invitational in Tempe, Ariz., and the Morris Williams Intercollegiate in Austin, Texas, only to struggle during the final round's back nine and finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Erkenbeck and Green both have been individual medalists - Erkenbeck tied for first at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas, Nev., in March, and Green took a one-stroke victory at the UNM-hosted William H. Tucker Intercollegiate in September.
"That was by far the worst feeling I've ever had on a golf course. You let yourself down and everyone else you're playing with down. You think about all 218 shots you hit that week and you're like, `Well, one less and you might be going to nationals.' "
John Catlin, Lobo senior golfer
Erkenbeck, Green, Catlin and Perez all are ranked in the top 75 of Golfweek.com's individual rankings, and all four earned All-Mountain West honors - a first for the school and the conference.
"To me, that's an amazing accomplishment," Millican says.
UNM has finished in the top five in 11 of 12 tournaments this season and 23 of 26 events, dating to the 2011-12 season. Unfortunately for the Lobos, one of those times out of the top five was last year's regional.
"That was by far the worst feeling I've ever had on a golf course," Catlin says. "You let yourself down and everyone else you're playing with down. You think about all 218 shots you hit that week and you're like, `Well, one less and you might be going to nationals.'
Falling that low (last season) kind of gave us a little extra motivation. You kind of (think), `I don't ever want to be back there again.' "
Millican says UNM didn't play poorly in either the 2009 or 2012 regional but noted the importance of every shot in the NCAA Tournament.
"Every little thing matters at this tournament because everybody's playing like it's their last tournament and they're leaving it all out on the golf course," he says. "You have to go out there and take care of business and play well. Nobody advances by accident."
Frankly, the Lobos probably don't care if they advance by accident or on purpose. But they are playing with a purpose, fueled by last year's near-miss.
They will be looking for any way to turn the nightmares of regionals past into a dream-come-true of advancing to the NCAA Championship in 2013.