STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State men’s golf team is loaded. We’ve heard this all before, pretty much on an annual basis. So it goes when you’re a program with 10 national titles, 52 conference championships, 62 straight NCAA appearances, 153 All-America selections, 11 players of the year, eight NCAA medalists, a world-class facility, yada, yada, yada. But this year’s Cowboys are more than loaded. They’re overloaded. The NCAA Regional begins today at Karsten Creek Golf Club, one of six sites used to determine this year’s NCAA Championship field May 26-30 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. OSU is ranked No. 2 nationally and figures to finish first on Saturday, but Kartsen Creek no doubt will dominate the event. The course is in superb shape, the greens are brisk and the fairways are saturated. If more rain arrived as expected Wednesday night, look for today’s opening round to be played as lift, clean and launch, which potentially could ease the course’s degree of difficulty from impossible to brutal. During Wednesday’s practice round, the 13 teams and 10 individuals fought wind gusts 35-40 mph out of the south. Imagine their dismay this morning when the wind is expected to blow 15-20 mph out of the north, essentially rendering the practice round worthless. Having a home-course advantage should come in handy for the Cowboys, but they shouldn’t need any help placing in the top five to advance to the NCAA Championship. Everybody on the OSU team can golf his ball. From the get-go, there were no free passes making the starting five. Didn’t matter if you were sophomore Rickie Fowler, a Walker Cup and Palmer Cup team member and last year’s Ben Hogan Award winner as a freshman as the nation’s finest amateur golfer. Didn’t matter if you were sophomore Kevin Tway, the 2005 U.S.Junior Amateur champ, an AJGA All-American and the son of former OSU great Bob Tway. Didn’t matter if you were freshman Peter Uihlein (U-line), a two-time AJGA National Player of the Year who won the Gaillardia Invitational and is the son of Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein. Didn’t matter if you were senior Trent Leon, a key player on the 2006 national championship team with 44 career starts and the youngest member of a renowned golf family. Didn’t matter if you were junior Trent Whitekiller, who won two months ago and finished tied for seventh at last year’s NCAA Championships. We haven’t even gotten to the team’s best player this season, freshman Morgan Hoffmann, who has won three times in nine starts, is the nation’s top-ranked collegiate golfer and has been selected to the Palmer Cup team alongside Leon. To join the Cowboys’ starting five, you had to stick a peg in the ground and go for it. Not every starting lineup was determined by an open qualifier with the top five getting to play that week, but that’s how this season began last September prior to the Fighting Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Hoffmann failed to survive that qualifier, finishing ninth. "He was just kind of discombobulated. He was all over the place,” OSU coach Mike McGraw said. Not only did Hoffmann qualify the next week, he won the Ping/Golfweek Preview, the signature fall event held at the site of that season’s NCAA Championship. "That was really important to me,” Hoffman said of the Preview. "I had a rough first week of school. I owed it to myself to do something good. I came out motivated and haven’t stopped since. "I thought it was going to be a lot harder adapting (to college), but with the people around here, it’s just so easy to fall into something good. Everyone makes you feel so comfortable. It’s great what we have going on here. "I’m so happy to be a part of it.” And yet these guys beat each other’s brains out to qualify for the starting five. "Hey, they know it’s all about the competition, and they embrace that,” McGraw said. "That’s what makes you get better.” Here’s how loaded OSU is: Hoffmann is the team leader in stroke average (71.55), yet will play out of the No. 3 spot this week behind Fowler and Leon. After missing out on the Big 12 Championships, Tway returns to lineup this week, bumping Whitekiller. Also waiting to crack the lineup are sophomore Mark Johnson, who tied for seventh at last year’s Big 12 Championships, and freshman Sean Einhaus, a member of last year’s World Amateur team from Germany. McGraw admittedly has a tough time filling out his lineup card, and he’s thankful for it. "Basketball coaches are yanking people all the time,” McGraw said. "I wouldn’t want to be a basketball coach. That’s got to be hard to do.” McGraw joined the program 12 years ago and has never had such deep feelings, referring to it as "true depth" when your roster goes 7-8 deep. "I’m not saying this is the best team in the last 12 years,” McGraw said, "but I would say it’s the first team we’ve had where you went past the sixth or seventh man. There are some really good players here not playing.” John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.
NCAA MEN’S GOLF REGIONAL
→Where: Karsten Creek Golf Club (7,407 yards; par-72) →When: Today through Saturday. →Format: 54 holes stroke play; 18 holes each day. →Field: 13 teams; 10 individuals. Top five teams and one individual advance to NCAA Championships at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. →Top players (national ranking): 1. Morgan Hoffmann, OSU; 8. Rickie Fowler, OSU; 15. Trent Leon, OSU; 22. Andrew Putnam, Pepperdine; 23. Dustin Garza, Wichita State; 24. John Peterson, LSU; 36. Andrew Landry, Arkansas; 41. James Sacheck, TCU.