April 27, 2011
RUSTON, La. - As the Louisiana Tech golf team prepares to head to Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada to compete in the 2011 Western Athletic Conference Championships next week, one thing is certain - they are past moral victories.
The Bulldogs won't be focused on besting last year's fifth place finish at the same course or on just being competitive.
Head coach Jeff Parks and this year's Bulldog team will have only one goal in mind when they tee it up starting Monday morning and that's to claim the program's first ever WAC title and the program's first ever trip to the NCAA Championships.
"We have the big one coming up, and it's what we've been planning for all year," Parks said. "Our goal all year has been to win the WAC Championship. We are excited. We are coming off a road win - the first one for this program in a long time. The guys have been working hard all year. I'm excited about going to Henderson, Nevada to see what happens."
All nine teams in the WAC will converge on Rio Secco Golf Club for the 54-hole event that will feature one 18-hole round Monday through Wednesday with the winner claiming the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.
Tech senior Clinton Shepard said that he and his teammates are locked in and ready to compete at what Parks refers to as a "target" golf course.
"We are confident coming off the win (at Texas State)," said Shepard. "We are fine tuning our games individually. There is no real team practice together. We all know what we need to work on to prepare. We are working on our individual games so we can come together as a team, and do what we need to do to win."
The competition should be a good one as six of the nine teams in the WAC are currently ranked in the Top 100 in the country in the Golfstat rankings - which is used by the NCAA for the selection process. Idaho is the league's top ranked team at 67 followed closely by New Mexico State (69), San Jose State (70), Fresno State (76), LA Tech (87) and Nevada (89).
Utah State (174), Hawaii (182) and Boise State (192) are ranked much further down the list. However, Parks and the Bulldogs know that all nine teams are capable of putting three good rounds together during the event.
"I think there are a number of teams that are really competitive and all have a good chance of playing well and winning," Parks said. "No one team is a lot better than anyone else. It should be very competitive. I think we are peaking at the right time and are heading (into the WAC Championships) with some confidence."
The Bulldogs are coming off an impressive and rather lopsided win at the 15-team field at the Jim West Intercollegiate hosted by Texas State two weeks ago. In that event, Tech defeated four Top 100 ranked teams and easily outdistanced runner up Southeastern Louisiana by eight strokes.
Shepard paced Tech at that event with the best finish of his collegiate career as the West Monroe native shot a three-round total of three-under-par 213 to finish third out of 84 competitors. Shepard leads Tech with a 73.13 stroke per round average this year, but Parks is quick to point out that the Bulldogs are far from a one-man show.
"Clinton is a great guy and a great leader," Parks said. "He is captain of the team. He is someone you want on your team. He is a competitor. However, all the guys are looking forward to the WAC Championships and playing for a chance to make the NCAAs. We have nine guys on the team and seven have finished in the top 15 this year. It's been a team effort. It's been a good season."
A win at the WAC Championships and good would become great for Shepard and his teammates who have already become the first LA Tech team in more than 15 years to win multiple tournaments in a season. In addition to its win in San Marcos a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs also captured the Squire Creek Invitational back in October.
According to Parks and Shepard, it's been the attention given to the mental aspect of the game and little details that has really helped the Bulldogs continue the progress that started under former head coach Jean Hall.
"(Focusing on the mental aspect) has been extremely important, especially in the game of golf," Parks said. "In golf we have a few minutes to walk up to a stationary item and then try to hit it. In other sports, it's pure reactionary. In golf a lot of thoughts go through your head between shots.
"You have to be able to clear your mind and focus on the one task. The problem is it's a four hour game, and no one can focus on anything for four hours. We teach the guys to go in and go out. We want them to go in and focus on the shot and then get out and relax. Try to have fun while you are playing the game. It's a sport. These guys are all ultra-competitive and want to win. We work on keeping our chin up, our chest out and being confident. We have some wins under our belt and so it is something we can be proud of as we move to next stage."
Shepard will be joined in the WAC Championship by freshman Jack Lempke, sophomore Sam Forgan, junior Jonathan Bale and junior Cody Santone. The fivesome will be looking to make Bulldog golf history - something that is not lost on the team captain.
"It would be a pretty special feeling," Shepard said, referring to winning the league title and participating in the NCAAs. "I know how we felt after we won the (Texas State) tournament. I can only imagine winning the conference tournament which is 10 times more important. I can only imagine how that would feel."
Hopefully, come next Wednesday afternoon, Shepard, Parks and the entire Bulldog golf team won't have to imagine - they will be experiencing the euphoria that comes with being Top Dawg.
What: 2011 WAC Golf Championships
When: May 2-4
Where: Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson, Nevada
Live Scoring: www.golfstat.com