Viktor Hovland (Oklahoma State Athletics photo)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A discerning eye can see the similarities between the past two NCAA Championship venues. Perhaps no one gets that more than Oklahoma State players this week, who know Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., (last year’s championship venue) quite well.
The Cowboys won the national title at Karsten Creek, their home course, last year. It’s an out-in-nature golf course with many of the same descriptors used this week at Blessings Golf Club. Both are sprawling Midwest courses where subtle elevation change comes into play. There are Zoysia fairways and big, sloping greens.
“It definitely feels familiar to Karsten Creek and should be comfortable for us. I think it's mostly the type of grass and just the part of the country,” head coach Alan Bratton said.
Like many men’s teams, Oklahoma State was on the sidelines earlier this week for the thrilling finish to the women’s championship. A practice round followed the next day. Still, Blessings is a steep learning curve.
Oklahoma State has won six times this year. Most teams have one man out front, but Cowboys Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff have been there together. Before arriving at Blessings, both attended a black-tie dinner at Colonial Country Club for Ben Hogan Award finalists. Viktor won the honor.
Just since school began in the fall, the two have played five PGA Tour events between them. Teammate Austin Eckroat also recently qualified for the U.S. Open.
These are learning curves for all players who hope to go professional, and experiences that the whole team can learn from, not just Hovland and Wolff.
As Bratton says, that’s the benefit of having a team like this.
“These two guys have gotten to do a lot of special things, but they brought that back to their teammates,” he said. “We try to preview or prepare them before they go, and then come back, and we want them to share what that experience was like, so everybody gets to benefit from that. Very much like you're out of contention as an individual and your team has a chance to win, you get to benefit from what that's like to be in contention coming down the stretch.”
That wealth of experience puts Oklahoma State in a different category. In addition to Hovland, Wolff and Eckroat, senior Zach Bauchou also returns from last year’s national title squad. Senior Hayden Wood is the added man this year, but just because he wasn't in the fray during the championship run at Karsten Creek last year doesn’t mean he wasn’t contributing to that team’s success – or learning from it. Wood red-shirted his freshman year, and Bratton points to that extra year of experience as being a strength.
“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,” 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.”
As much as it feels so geographically, Blessings is not home for Oklahoma State. The fairways will not be lined in orange – unless, perhaps, Cowboy fans turn out in number for a potential title defense. Oklahoma State has won the national championship 11 times, but never has defended one of those titles.
A lot of golf stands between now and that potential match.
“There's not much to do to put in the work anymore, just go out there and do what you know how to do,” Wolff said.
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Championship
30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information