By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Looking back on it, Mike McGraw kicks himself that he hadn’t thought of using the Maxwell format before in the Baylor-hosted Royal Oaks Intercollegiate.
The unique format has all five players from each team playing in the same group, instead of being paired with players from different teams, which allows coaches the chance to see “all five players on his team hit every shot for 54 holes,” McGraw said.
“It’s actually the best format that we ever play in a college golf tournament,” said McGraw, whose team will host the 13-team Royal Oaks Intercollegiate on Monday and Tuesday at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas. “There’s nothing like that, as far as learning what players do. It’s actually a little more pressure on the player. Now, the coach gets to see every shot he hits to get to that 75. And his teammates get to see how he shoots that score. So, there is a lot of extra pressure, but it’s so much fun.”
And not only will McGraw, assistant coach Ryan Blagg and the other 12 teams’ coaches get to see it, fans can, too. There is no charge for admission or parking for the two-day, 54-hole tournament, with fans able to walk along with the players or find a good viewing spot on the 18-hole layout.
“You’re never going to get an opportunity to see a Division I collegiate athlete, this close, compete and hear what he’s saying to his coaches and hear what the coaches are saying to him,” McGraw said. Located south of I-635 and east of Central Expressway (I-75) at 7915 Greenville Avenue, Royal Oaks Country Club is “probably the best viewing golf course we play,” McGraw said.
“They’ve got trees everywhere, but they’re all pruned way up, so there’s just a canopy out there,” he said. “But, you can see anywhere on the golf course. As a coach, if my players weren’t together, I could still see four or five of them standing in one spot. So, it’s great for viewing, it’s easy to walk. It’s one of the flattest courses we play all year, so it won’t be up and down hills. Looks like the temperatures are going to be in the mid-70s, which is nice. But as far as viewing, you get to see all five Baylor Bears together. I think it will be a blast.”
Senior Matthew Perrine, who’s had chances to play in tournaments with galleries before, said it’s “always a great experience.”
“It’s going to be so much fun,” said Perrine, who finished fourth at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate two weeks ago, his second top-10 finish of the year and 13th in his career. “It teaches you a little bit about yourself. The more people we have out there, the more fun it will be for us, too.”
Ranked seventh by Golfstat and ninth by Golfweek, Baylor heads a field that includes two other top 25 teams in No. 14 Kent State and 17th-ranked Arkansas. Nine of the 13 qualified for NCAA regionals last year, with Pepperdine, Kent State and New Mexico joining the Bears at the NCAA Championships.
“We play more difficult fields during the year, but that’s fine. You wouldn’t want to play the toughest field all year long,” McGraw said. “That’s like as a football coach, you don’t want to play the No. 1 team in the country every week. It’s OK to see that competition occasionally, but not every week. This is a good field, it’s solid. We’ve got a couple other teams coming back next year that will make it even stronger. But, our fans get to see some of the better teams in college golf, and they’ll get to see them up close and personal.”
Also in the field are NCAA regional qualifiers Houston, Iowa, Liberty and Michigan, plus Minnesota, Charlotte, SMU and UTSA.
Last year, led by co-medalists Perrine and Braden Bailey, the Bears shot 31-under par and ran away with the team title to win by 32 strokes over Houston. Baylor had four in the top eight, with then-senior Hunter Shattuck tying for third and current sophomore Cooper Dossey one stroke back in a tie for fifth.
“I love the layout of Royal Oaks, I love the golf course,” said Bailey, who shot 10-under 203 to win a share of last year’s medalist honors and has posted three straight top-10 finishes this year with a 69.67-stroke average. “Everyone on the team is playing really well right now, so we definitely have a good chance. And it will be nice having a little bit of a home tournament feel, only an hour and a half away from Waco.”
Baylor returns four players from last year’s lineup, with junior Garrett May and freshman Ryan Grider joining Perrine, Bailey and Dossey in the five-man team lineup. Additionally, sophomores Austin Cotton and Colin Kober and freshmen Travis McInroe and Mark Reppe will play as individuals.
“The difference between this team and perhaps last year’s team would be that we do have a couple additional players that are really competing for a spot,” McGraw said. “Last year, I played the same five every tournament. That won’t happen this year. There’s just too much competition for that fifth spot.”
The Bears are still looking for their first tournament title of the season, but they’ve been in contention each week. At all three tournaments, they’ve led after the first round and been in second after 36 holes, finishing second at the Gopher Invitational, fourth the Fighting Illini Invitational and third at the Jerry Pate.
“We’re definitely right there,” Perrine said. “Leading after the first round every tournament definitely shows the kind of talent we have. I wouldn’t say it’s concerning at all. We’re learning each week, and that’s all we can do. We’re not trying to be No. 1 right now, we’re trying to be No. 1 at the end of the season. Any victory we have along the way is definitely good, but we’re just trying to get better each week.”
Last year, Royal Oaks was the first of four tournament titles for a team that advanced to the NCAA Championship match play quarterfinals, losing to eventual national champion Oklahoma.
“I think it’s good that we’re in every tournament,” McGraw said. “The more opportunities you can give yourself to kind of get up there and see what that feels like, the better. We didn’t win our first three tournaments last year, and we ended up having a great year. I feel like this team is primed to be pretty good.”
There will be two shotgun-start rounds on Monday, with Baylor starting from the No. 10 tee box at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday’s final round starts at 8:30 a.m., with live scoring available for both days at www.golfstat.com.