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Golf struggles at Conference USA tournament, finishes in last place

By Paul Fitzgerald     5/22/12 7:00pm

While the Rice golf team had put together a disappointing season, the Conference-USA Tournament presented an opportunity to make postseason play. Instead, the Owls finished in last place at their conference tournament, ending a poor season.

As he has done for most of the spring season, freshman Tommy Economou paced Rice, finishing in 38th place with a three-round score of 227. Sophomore Jeff Wibawa posted a 41st place finish with a score of 229, while junior Brock Wilson finished with a score of 233. Freshmen Joe Beck and James Ragan carded scores of 234 and 239, respectively.

Memphis finished two shots ahead of tournament favorite UCF, while UCF's Greg Eason captured the event's individual title with an 8-under 208.

The C-USA Tournament marked the end of the Owls' 2011-2012 season. Head coach Justin Emil's first year on the job proved very difficult, as the graduation of last year's senior class coupled with additional turmoil was too much to overcome.

"It was hard for the younger guys because there wasn't that much leadership on this year's team," Emil said. "When you don't have that mentorship, there's more of a learning curve, and the younger guys are forced to figure it out on their own."

While the team was disappointed in their results on the course, the expectation of future success remains, especially because of the promise the younger members showed late in the season.

Economou came on strong in the spring season and finished as the top Rice golfer in the team's final three events. The Bay Area native is expected to continue his improvement in the fall season.

While Economou improved throughout the season, sophomore Jeff Wibawa was unable to build on his terrific fall season that saw him win the individual title at the Lone Star Invitational. Despite the disappointment of his spring season, Wibawa still has high expectations for next year.

"I got into a bit of a funk in the spring season, but I plan on playing in a lot of tournaments this summer to get myself ready for next season," Wibawa said. "I'll be working harder than ever, and I know I'll be ready come fall."

The team will also return Wilson, who will be Rice's only senior next year. Current freshmen Joe Beck, Ryan Benevides and James Ragan will be back for the Owls, as well as sophomore James Hiester.

Next year's roster will also include the addition of three new golfers, two freshmen and one junior transfer, who have Emil excited about the group's potential.

"We expect big things from this group of incoming golfers," Emil said. "I'm very excited to see them come in and play right away, and I think they'll fit in very well with this group of guys we have now."

While the Owls certainly expected more out of this season, the future certainly looks bright for Rice, a fact echoed by Wibawa.

"We expect to compete in every tournament we play in and compete for a conference title," Wibawa said. "We have the talent and the drive to work hard and hopefully it pays off."

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