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Golf grabs ninth-place finish in Louisiana

By Paul Fitzgerald     3/17/11 7:00pm

Senior Michael Whitehead has played a terrific senior season so far, and his performance at the Bulldog Classic last weekend fit in with the theme of his season.

Whitehead posted a three-round score of 218, good for two over par, ending up in sixth place at the event hosted by Louisiana Tech University at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La. His score was the lowest for the Owls for the eighth time in eight events, but the Owls still ended up with a disappointing finish, placing ninth out of 12 teams. Whitehead talked about what he did in order to achieve another strong individual finish.

"Squire is such a difficult course that the key to success there is limiting your mistakes," Whitehead said. "I was able to do that over the course of the event, and minimizing my mistakes really helped me out."

The senior has put together a strong final campaign at Rice, receiving Conference USA's Golfer of the Week award three times while posting six top-10 finishes. Head Coach Drew Scott (Wiess '98) believes that Whitehead's personal drive is what has brought him this far.

"The expectations that I myself and the team put him on him are no higher than the expectations he puts on himself," Coach Scott said. "He expects to win tournaments and he's always out there looking for more. I think his best golf is still ahead of him."

While Whitehead paced Rice all season long, freshman Jeff Wibawa played strong golf for the Owls as well. Wibawa opened with a 73 before slipping back in the second round, as many of the Rice golfers did, before bouncing back to card a final-round 73 that left the California native in a tie for 21st.

Junior Erik Mayer and sophomore Brock Wilson finished in ties for 38th and 48th, respectively. Wilson led Rice with an opening-round 71 before falling back to shoot a three-round score of 233, while Mayer sandwiched two solid rounds to start and end the tournament around a second-round 80.

The fifth member of the traveling squad was senior Tim Pawul, who withdrew after pulling a back muscle during the opening round. While Pawul's score did not count in the first round, his absence did have an effect on the tournament. With Pawul out, every Rice golfer who played in rounds two and three was guaranteed to have their score counted. The increased pressure could have played a factor, but Coach Scott believed Pawul's injury had no effect.

"A lot of people will say it puts more pressure on the guys, but those are the expectations I have on each of the guys," Coach Scott said. "I want everyone to have the mindset that their score is going to count."

With each score counting, however, the Owls were unable to navigate the difficult conditions of Squire Creek. The windy weather on Monday did not do Rice any favors, and the Owls were unable to climb back up the leaderboard when conditions became favorable on Tuesday. Coach Scott felt the team was a couple of shots from a markedly better finish.

"For a while we had it going, but a few bogies here and there really hurt us," Coach Scott said. "A few shots is normally the difference in college golf, and that's just how it goes."

As they have had to do for much of the season, Rice must put a disappointing finish behind them.

Following a quick turnaround this weekend, the Owls turn their attention to the Duck Invitational, hosted by the University of Oregon. Oregon, ranked 28th in the latest Golfstat.com rankings, promises to provide a difficult field of some of the nation's best teams at the event.

With the possibility of qualifying for postseason play via their all-but-gone regular-season record, Rice will look to continue to improve their game at Oregon and in the two events following before traveling to Texarkana, Ark. for the C-USA Tournament. While postseason play might be a difficult goal, Whitehead refuses to lower his ambitions.

"You go into every event saying that you're going to win," Whitehead said. "I'm going out to Oregon with the mindset that I'm going to win individually and the team's going to win as well, and that's the mindset we have to have."

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