Sophomore Jeff Wibawa places in 13th
Looking to gather some momentum heading into their home stretch, the Rice golf team instead faltered at the Argent Financial Classic, finishing in last place.
Coming off a disappointing 14th-place finish at their home event, the Rice Intercollegiate, the Owls headed to Choudrant, La. for the tournament, hosted by Louisiana Tech University. Rice had already traveled to Choudrant in the fall portion of their season, finishing in 12th place at the Squire Creek Invitational.
The Owls were unable to use their past experience to start the tournament strong, posting a team score of 310 that left them in last place after Sunday's first round. Sophomore Jeff Wibawa led Rice, as he has for much of the year, by posting an even-par 72.
Already down on the leaderboard, the Owls looked to begin a comeback in the second round. Wibawa continued to score well, carding a one-over 73, and he was matched by freshman Tommy Economu. However, their team score of 300 was not enough to move them out of last place.
The event's third round saw Wibawa post a one-under 71, leaving the Baker College member in a tie for 13th. Economu's 75 left him in a tie for 35th, while the remaining Owls, senior Erik Mayer, freshman Joe Beck and junior Brock Wilson finished in ties for 47th, 49th and 51st, respectively.
As has been the case all season long, the majority of Rice's lineup was comprised of underclassmen. With only two upperclassmen on the roster, Head Coach Justin Emil sees this year as an important developmental year.
"We're a real young team, so it's been a real rebuilding year for us," Emil said. "We've had to teach them how to do certain things, and there's a real learning curve, especially for collegiate golf."
While the team has certainly struggled as they've gotten accustomed to the grind of collegiate golf, Wibawa's play has continued to impress. The Encino, Calif. native has begun the spring with back-to-back top-20 finishes, and even though he concedes he's not playing his best golf, he feels as if anything is possible.
"My ballstriking was good, which allowed me to have chances for birdies and prevented big numbers, but my putter wasn't helping me enough to get the W," Wibawa said. "I think I'm capable of going to the rest of our events and contending for each title."
The next event at which Wibawa hopes to contend is the team's next tournament, the Border Olympics. Held in Laredo, Texas, the Border Olympics have been kind to Rice golf in the past. Michael Whitehead (Will Rice '11) used a final-round 62 at last year's event to take the individual title.
While Wibawa may have his eye on a title, the team's struggles this year have Emil focusing on the improvement of his team.
There's been a unique opportunity on this team for the young guys to get experience, and I've been very encouraged," Emil said. "We're just going to go in there, develop a game plan, and stick to it. Hopefully at the end it will add up to a better performance."
More from The Rice Thresher
On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice’s men’s team place third with 121 points — their best conference championship performance since 2005 — and the women’s team place fifth with 88 points. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.