Golf grabs sixth place in Louisiana; looks to N.C. next
Needing a solid final-round performance, senior Michael Whitehead delivered for the Owls, moving the golf team into a tie for sixth place on Tuesday at the Squire Creek Intercollegiate hosted by Louisiana Tech University in Choudrant, La. The Sugar Land native started off with an opening-round 66, the second-lowest round recorded by any Rice golfer since the mid-1980s.Rice shot a cumulative three-round score of 912 to tie the team with Sam Houston State University. The Owls' final-round score of 304 was the third lowest during Tuesday's third round of play and moved Rice out of a tie for eighth into sixth.
As has been the case for most of the season, Whitehead led the Owls with his second consecutive top-five finish. Though Whitehead would squander his first-round lead with a second-round 78, his third-round 71 was still good enough to move him into second place at Squire Creek Golf Club. Whitehead feels as if his game is coming into form this year.
"I've been working on some stuff lately and I feel like it's all slowly coming together," Whitehead said. "I've just been focusing on getting better and what I need to improve on and focusing on the big picture, and all of the other stuff will come along."
Freshman Jeffery Wibawa finished in a tie for 22nd with a three-round score of 227, while sophomore Brock Wilson's score of 233 allowed him to post his best finish of the fall with a tie for 42nd. Wilson moved into a tie with Whitehead for second on the team this season in eagles behind senior Robert Burrow, who could not travel due to an upper respiratory infection. Freshman Chris Contreras finished in a tie for 59th while junior Erik Mayer battled an illness on his way to a tie for 62nd.
While the Owls struggled to navigate the difficult course at Squire Creek, Whitehead once again led the team to a respectable finish, keeping them within striking distance of a .500 mark for the fall. Even though Whitehead finished in a disappointing tie for 40th to open the season at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate, he has finished in a tie for fifth and second in his last two events. The Will Ricer has a stroke average of 71.66 to lead the team and has managed to improve his stroke average every year, posting averages of 75.19, 75.06 and 73.57 while playing in every event during his time at Rice.
Head Coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98) felt that Whitehead's versatility has been a big contributor to his individual success.
"He's really been playing well for the last two years basically, and he's been playing with some real confidence," Scott said. "He has the ability to adapt his game and play well on any kind of course."
While the golf team was not dependent on Whitehead last year due to the strong play of Michael Buttacavoli (Martel '10), Christopher Brown (Brown '10) and Jade Scott (transferred to Texas A&M University), the void left by those three has made Whitehead's play that much more important. The senior posted a solid finish at the Texas Open during his summer amateur schedule before winning his U.S. Amateur qualifier and competing at the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, Wash.
The Owls hope Whitehead's strong summer competition will prepare them for the team's two upcoming events. They will compete at the Rod Myers Invitational in Durham, N.C., hosted by Duke University over the weekend, where they are certain to face a strong field including the University of Iowa, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and the University of Minnesota, among others. This will be one of the strongest fields Rice will face all year, giving them a terrific opportunity to improve their strength of schedule and ranking. Despite the difficult field, Scott prefers to focus on improving the Owls day by day.
"We haven't achieved what we set out to achieve yet, so we're still trying to learn and get better," Scott said. "We're still trying to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible, no matter who we're up against."
After leaving Durham, they will travel to Baton Rouge, La., for the David Toms Intercollegiate, hosted by Louisiana State University, where Rice finished in a tie for fifth last year against a stacked field.
The two events could prove crucial to a Rice team that will most likely find itself close to the bubble for postseason play. The David Toms Intercollegiate could provide the Owls with a confidence boost heading into their winter break or give the team a negative to focus on until it resumes play in February.
The importance of the upcoming two weeks is not lost on Whitehead.
"You want to say they're the same as any other tournament, but they're not," Whitehead said. "We have a great opportunity here to improve our ranking."
Scott, however, went a little bit further in addressing the significance of Rice's next two events, simply saying:
"They'll make or break our season.
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