For the top-ranked Oklahoma State men’s golf team, not much has changed.
“For the most part, we’ve been the No. 1 team all year, really the No. 1 team all of last year, and then we won stroke play and ended up winning the national championship last year,” sophomore Matthew Wolff said in a teleconference Thursday after a practice round. “I think we’ve always had a target on our back, and we know that feeling and we’re comfortable with it, so I think that there’s nothing else that’s really changed or feels that much different.”
The Cowboys embark on their pursuit of the program’s first back-to-back national titles when the NCAA Championships get underway Friday at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Last year, OSU captured the championship in front of a large contingent of fans at its home course, and this year’s attempt will be only three hours from Stillwater.
“The goal is the same, to try to win the national championship,” junior Viktor Hovland said. “But obviously we’re not going to have the same visual support as we had last year. But there’s a lot of similarities, as well.
“We had a really good season leading up to the national championship, a lot of extra patience to do well at nationals, which we did, and I think that’s helped us for this year, kind of under similar circumstances, somewhat being the same.”
While four of the five in the Cowboys’ starting lineup were in similar roles last season, the other is Hayden Wood, a senior from Edmond who defeated teammate Austin Eckroat to win the 2018 OGA State Amateur title.
“Hayden may not have had the clubs in his hand when we won the championship last year, but he was out there watching, and he was a big part of allowing us to get to that championship,” coach Alan Bratton said. “He was in the lineup quite a bit of the year last year and has been in the lineup all year this year. … He redshirted as a freshman, and now we’ve got a 23-year-old senior that’s ready to step up and be a big part this week as he ends his college career.”
OSU is the favorite to win the team title that will be determined through three rounds of match play Tuesday and Wednesday, and Wolff and Hovland are among the contenders for the individual championship that will be awarded Monday.
Each has experienced success in individual tournaments, including Hovland winning the Silver Cup as the low amateur at this year’s Masters.
“You’re playing the same game, so your mindset doesn’t really change,” Hovland said. “The way to help the team is that you’ve got to do what’s best for you when you’re out on the course because you’re the one that’s playing, and if you’re playing well, you’re helping the team out. … If the team is doing well, it’s a better team spirit, so you’re not alone in that way.”