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Golfers eye national prize - OC Athletics

Monday, February 16, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Katy Watson
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The Oklahoma Christian University golf team will have a new look in 2009 under new head coach Kelsey Cline. Besides having a new coach at the helm, the Eagles won't have four-time All-Americans Bruno Buccolo and Rhein Gibson for the first time in four years.

But it would be a massive understatement to say there is still plenty of upside to this year's team, which begins its spring season today at the Arizona Intercollegiate tournament, hosted by Southern Nazarene University at the Francisco Grande Resort in Casa Grande, Ariz.

OC returns three NAIA All-Americans to go with many quality returning and new players. The Eagles hope the recipe is there for a 10th-consecutive top-four finish at the NAIA national tournament and for the elusive prize of a first-ever national championship.

Cline – who was an All-Big 12 golfer at the University of Oklahoma – was hired in June after David Lynn resigned to enter the business world. Cline is excited about the 2009 squad and believes it can continue OC's golf tradition.

“We have a great deal of natural talent and this team has the ability to compete with anyone at any given venue,” Cline said. “We have to learn as a team to play better golf when we don't have our best some days. As I always stress to my team, fairways are the key.”

Senior Fernando Gonzales is OC's top returner after leading the Eagles with a third-place finish at last year's NAIA National Championship. Gonzales is a three-time NAIA All-American and hopes to follow in Buccolo and Gibson's footsteps to four-time All-America glory. The Santa Cruz, Bolivia, native has played at three NAIA national tournaments and gives this year's squad needed experience and leadership.

“Fernando is our senior All-American leader and I look for great things from him in his final semester at OC,” Cline said.

More optimism comes in the form of sophomores Axel Ochoa and Oscar Stark. Both players were All-Americans last year and hope to build on their stellar freshman seasons.

Ochoa (Buenos Aires, Argentina) was a second-team All-American after posting an average score of 74.2 in 11 tournaments. Ochoa earned a tie for 30th at NAIA nationals to add more big-tournament experience to the 2009 roster.

Stark (Gothenburg, Sweden) earned honorable-mention All-America honors and tied for 58th at nationals. He tied for 22nd at the NAIA Region VI/Sooner Athletic Conference championships and tied for 12th at the UT-San Antonio Invitational.

After OC's top three, Cline has the luxury of choosing from an array of tournament-ready players. Among those who already have proven their ability to play at the college level are seniors Blake St. John, Noah Lawson and Glen McCawley and juniors Jordan Cook and Richard Graham.

St. John (Glasgow, Scotland) tied for sixth at the OC Sleep Inn and Suites Classic and tied for 16th at the Texas Intercollegiate. In the offseason, he placed second at the U.S. Amateur Qualifier in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Lawson (Forrest Lake, Minn.) shot an average score of 76.9 in five tournaments played last season. He tied for fifth at the Chick-Fil-A Classic in fall 2007.

Graham (Glasgow, Scotland) has been a steady contributor during his time at OC. He averaged a score of 76 in four tournaments last year and tied for 10th at the OC Sleep Inn and Suites Classic.

Cook (Edmond, Okla.) averaged a 74.8 in the fall after posting a 76.6 in three events last season. The junior showed he can shoot low scores when he fired a 69 in the first round of the Elkins Lake Invitational in the fall.

There are four new players on this year's team, led by freshman Tor-Erik Knudsen (Baerum, Norway), who impressed in three fall tournaments. Knudsen tied for seventh at the Texas-Arlington Invitational to place as OC's high finisher. He tied for 13th at the Elkins Lake Invitational and 35th at the U.C. Ferguson Classic.

Also new to the 2009 roster are sophomore Preston Wilkins (Tulsa, Okla.) and freshmen Chris Rabbich (Manchester, England) and Nick Ziccardi (East Aurora, N.Y.).

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