The vacancy in the men's coaching job at Oklahoma State didn't last long and the search didn't stretch far as athletic director Mike Holder announced Tuesday that former Cowboy standout and current Cowgirl women's coach Alan Bratton had been picked to take over the men's program.
Bratton becomes just the fourth men's coach in school history, replacing Mike McGraw, who was dismissed from the job June 21 after eight seasons.
Holder also announced that Courtney Jones would replace Bratton as the women's head coach after serving as the team's assistant coach the past two seasons.
Bratton's OSU ties run deep. The College Station, Texas native played for the school from 1991-95, twice earning first-team All-American honors while also being the co-recipient of the Jack Nicklaus national player of the year award in 1994. As a senior, Bratton helped lead the Cowboys to the 1995 NCAA title, the eighth of OSU's 10 national championships.
After playing professionally and working for three years as a player development manager at Ping, Bratton returned to Stillwater as an associate head coach for the men's and women's teams working for seven seasons before taking over as the women's head coach before the start of the 2011-12 campaign. Bratton's women's teams won five titles in his two years at the helm, including the 2013 Big 12 Championship.
"Oklahoma State golf has been a part of my life since 1989 and it is the only place I ever wanted to play or coach," Bratton said. "I am humbled to have the opportunity to follow Labron Harris, Mike Holder and Mike McGraw. They have set the bar very high and I am ready to get to work."
Jones is a 2006 graduate of Tulsa who worked as a graduate assistant there before becoming a senior tournament director with the AJGA.
“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead the Cowgirl program. I have learned a tremendous amount over the past two years,” Jones said. “There is a commitment and passion for excellence at Oklahoma State that is unparalleled and inspires me daily.”
In the more than three decades he worked as men's golf coach at Oklahoma State, results were the unflinching measure of the world according to Mike Holder. If you played for Coach Holder, you could put in all the time and effort you wanted to in practice. Ultimately, though, if it didn't translate to the course and improved results, it only meant you needed to put in more time and effort in practice.
Not surprisingly, such a mindset is among the central tenets in how Holder has done business as the athletic director at Oklahoma State since leaving coaching to take that job in 2005. And thus the news out of Stillwater, Okla., today—that Holder's handpicked successor, Mike McGraw, just the third man to oversee the program in its history, has been let go as men's coach—came down to a cold, calculated, unflinching bottom line.
The results lately from the OSU men's golf team haven't been what's expected in Stillwater.
The 2011-12 season for the Cowboys was arguably the worst in the program's history as for the first time in 66 years OSU failed to reach the NCAA Championship. The 2012-13 campaign was better—a win in the fall ended an almost 17-month victory drought and the team was ranked in the top 25 of the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll most of the year—but a T-14 showing at NCAAs and questions of when the program might return to its typical success, likely caused Holder to decide to move in another direction.
"This was not an easy decision," Holder said in a press release, which stated that McGraw will not return as head coach but mentioned nothing of a replacement or a search process/time table for picking a successor. "I could go on forever about what a good man Mike McGraw is, but at the end of the day, I had to do what I felt was in the best interest of the program."
McGraw is a good man. A very good man. And a very good coach too. In his first season as the men's coach (after one year overseeing the OSU women's program) his team won the NCAA Championship at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort. Some might say that was a roster of Holder recruits, but McGraw got them to perform at crunch time. He deserves credit for that.
Moreover, McGraw stockpiled his squads with some of college golf's brightest talent in subsequent years, with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Kevin Tway and Morgan Hoffmann all thriving in Stillwater. His teams were favorites to win NCAA titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 upon arriving at the site of the national championship (in 2011 playing on their home course, Karsten Creek GC).
Those years, however, were the first three in which match play was used to crown a team champion, a format that (cue the irony) Holder pushed to be adopted and helped get passed while serving on the NCAA men's golf committee in the mid-2000s. And while the Cowboys earned the No. 1 seed after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying each time, they were never able to overcome the vagaries of match play, failing to win the title every time.
McGraw, to his credit, never made excuses. Each time his team painfully lost, he didn't hide behind the "change in format" as an explanation for not winning. He just said his team needed to play better than it had and that it didn't get the job done.
It's the same response Holder would have given if he were still the coach. Save for the fire and brimstone, McGraw was much like Holder, who first hired him as an assistant in 1997. Results mattered to McGraw, and he knew that of late they weren't what he—or his boss—were expecting.
So who might become McGraw's success? I've done no reporting on this, so this is purely speculation. However, Alan Bratton, an All-American for Holder in the 1990s who has been the coach of the women's program at OSU the last two seasons, would seem to be a likely contender, if not the leading candidate. (Interestingly, though, he has a top-recruiting class coming in this fall and reason to believe his squad might be a contender for a NCAA women's title in 2014.)
There are other possibilities. Since I've done no reporting, I don't feel right speculating but smart followers of college golf will know that some men at successful programs around the country have ties to the state of Oklahoma and thus might have reason to explore the possibility.
The person who ultimately gets the job will have all the resources necessary to win national championships. That's the privilege of getting to coach at Oklahoma State, a bona fide "golf school." But they also will be measured by how many national championships they actually do win, since they serve at the pleasure of the most successful college golf coach of the last quarter century who can claim eight on his own resume.
Make no mistake: Mike Holder expects results. If you didn't believe that before today, you certainly should now.
WILMINGTON, DEL.—Stop me if you've heard this before: Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett secured early points in team match-play competition to lift a Jay Seawell-coached squad to victory.
Seven days after the Alabama teammates propelled Seawell and the Crimson Tide to the NCAA men's title, the duo did it again, this time for Team USA as the American side, led by their college coach, claimed a convincing 20 1/2-9 1/2 victory over Europe at the 17th Palmer Cup.
The U.S. entered Sunday afternoon's 10-match singles session with a convincing 14-6 lead on the Europeans, coached by former Ryder Cup competitor Andrew Coltart. Still, a year ago the U.S. had a similarly impressive 10-6 edge at Royal County Down, only to see the Euros rally to win 7 1/2 of eight singles points and unbelievably claim the cup.
"Coach was on the putting green, making sure we were all in the right frame of mind ready to go out and play," Whitsett said, acknowledging that he and his teammates were away of recent history. "Not to think about winning the thing overall but just to do your job and win your match. Everything else would take care of itself."
Armed with that knowledge, Wyatt and Whitsett made sure there would be no late afternoon heroics by the visitors at Wilmington CC's South Course. In the leadoff match, Wyatt faced Ireland's Kevin Phelan, who qualified last Monday to compete at this week's U.S. Open. With a birdie on the 12th hole (one of six he'd have in the session), Wyatt took a 1-up lead he maintained on the 18th tee, giving the U.S. at least a 1/2 point.
Meanwhile, Whitsett, playing in match two, won the 13th, 15th and 16th holes to knock off Scott Fernandez and secure the other point needed to make the remaining eight matches exhibition affairs.
Both Wyatt (who halved his match with Phelan) and Whitsett finished the week with 3-0-1 records, as did a third member of Alabama's NCAA winning team, Justin Thomas. Their performances once again impressed their old ball coach.
"The strategy of going Bama in front, I still felt pretty comfortable with that [this week]," Seawell said.
While Wyatt and Whitsett left little in doubt, the Americans also held strong in the remaining matches, winning the session 6 1/2-3 1/2. Sean Dale of North Florida rallied from 4-down with five holes to play to halve his match with Europe's Julien Brun. New Mexico's James Erkenbeck beat Pedro Figueirdo, 2 and 1, the latter having accidentally torn off the nail on his left big toe in the morning while moving luggage, requiring him to wear one sneaker and one golf shoe.
Michael Weaver of California beat college teammate Joel Stalter, 3 and 1, as Thomas knocked off Sebastian Cappelen of SEC rival Arkansas, 2 and 1, and Patrick Rodgers beat Gary Hurley, 2 and 1.
What impressed Seawell the most was the buy-in his 10 players gave during the week. "This is a dream team. I didn't have to do much," Seawell said. "But they made a choice to be a team. That's what we talked about Tuesday or Wednesday. They're great players, they know that. But were we going to become a team in just two days. The part I loved is you could see them becoming a team. As a coach that's all you pull for."
Sweden's Pontus Widegren, a standout player at UCLA, closed out his fourth Palmer Cup appearance with a 1-up singles victory against Michael Kim. Widegren, the fifth golfer to play in the annual event four times, finished his Palmer Cup career with 7-7-2 record, moving to third all-time in points earned (behind Europe's Alejandro Canizares, 13, and Rhys Davies, 9).
"It's just been an amazing experience to play on the team once, let alone four times," Widegren said. "The friendships I've made have been great, something I'll take with me for the rest of my life."
Widegren turns pro on Monday and has an exemption into the BMW International Open on the European Tour June 20-23 for his debut event. He also has a spot waiting for him in the Kyrnten Golf Open the next week on the Challenge Tour.
Pedro Figueirdo and James Erkenbeck were named winners of the Michael Carter Award, given to the player on each squad that best exemplifies the fun-loving spirit of the competition. Figueirdo gamely played through the pain of his Sunday morning injury.
"I think he was hurting more than he wanted to let on," said Widegren, who played with his college teammate in Sunday morning fourball. "It was bleeding pretty good [throughout the round]. But he hung on."
Figueirdo made a clutch putt on the 18th hole of the morning match to secure a halve for he and Widegren. "That was pretty amazing," Widegren said.
California coach Steve Desimone was in attendance Sunday, watching three of his Golden Bears playing on the two teams. Eight days removed from his squad's disappointing NCAA semifinal loss to Illinois, ending its dream season, he was positive but still emotional about what happened. "The shock of it is over. But the disappointment will last a lifetime."
RETURNING FROM MILTON, GA.—On the eve of the NCAA Championship, I pontificated that while California was the dominant team in men's college golf in 2012-13, they weren't the only team capable of winning the national championship. The Alabama Crimson Tide proved me correct (a rarity, I know) as Jay Seawell's squad never had a down day during its visit to the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, performing not just the best but the most consistent of any team competing at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course.
I concluded that column by saying: "This is Cal's tournament to lose. But that doesn't mean another school isn't ready to make it their championship to win." And indeed, that's what Bobby Wyatt, Justin Thomas, Cory Whitsett, Scott Strohmeyer and Trey Mullinax did. As I noted in my story about the championship in this week's Golf World, this fivesome debunked the cliche "Losing hurts worse more than winning feels good" as they got redemption from their bitter defeat in the finals of the 2012 NCAA Championship.
No sooner, however, had California senior Max Homa painfully missed the par putt on the 20th hole of his semifinal match with Illinois' Thomas Pieters, did the grumbling begin. Is it fair that the head-and-shoulders No. 1 team not just for this season but for any season in three decades—if not any season ever—wasn't even going to be playing in the final?
My simple answer is yes. That's the way match-play works. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Almost all the time the matches are going to be close and they're going to come down to executing under the gun.
Truth be told, and I think maybe Golden Bear coach Steve Desimone will admit this in a private moment, Cal's starting five wasn't playing its best last week. They were vulnerable. Now it speaks to just how impressive a roster they have in Berkeley that on a week when it was looking weak, Cal still finished ahead of all 29 other schools after 54 holes of stroke play (six strokes better than second-place Georgia Tech and nine ahead of Alabama). But there were stretches of play where the Golden Bears appeared beatable even before they actually got beat by the Fighting Illini on Saturday.
So now what?
MILTON, GA. -- The hundreds of Alabama fans decked out in red and white had plenty to cheer for Sunday at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course -- and weren't afraid to do let their voices be heard.
Then again, could you blame them?
After having to bite their collective lips 364 days ago when the Crimson Tide men's team heartbreakingly lost to Texas in the final round of the NCAA Championship, 3-2, at Riviera CC, the chance to come back and root on their squad—four of the five golfers returning—was too much to pass up.
Coach Jay Seawell's Crimson Tide squad knew that too. The opportunity to avenge the runner-up finish from a year ago was all this team had hoped for in the last 12 months, and they took advantage of it, defeating Illinois, 4-1, to win the 2013 NCAA Championship, the first in school history.
"It makes it more special," said Seawell afterward about taking care of unfinished business. "It makes you appreciate it even a great deal to more. It's so hard to even get here. And these guys have been on a mission, a mission, a mission. It is their championship and we won because of them.
While there was drama Sunday, ultimately Alabama was in control most of the morning. Junior Bobby Wyatt set the early tone, winning his first seven holes (with five birdies) in the first match out against Illinois' Thomas Detry en route to a 6-and-5 triumph.
Similarly, junior Cory Whitsett, the SEC player of the year, was 5 up after nine holes on Alex Burge in the fifth match, forcing Illinois to have to win the middle three contests to have a chance at repeating the magic it had a day earlier in defeating No. 1 ranked California and ending that squads magical 2012-13 season.
While the Illini's Charlie Danielson, Thomas Pieters and Brian Campbell made a game effort, there was something about this Alabama team that wasn't going to be denied. Pieters, the 2012 NCAA individual champion playing in his last college event before turning pro, knocked off 2012 college player of the year Justin Thomas, 1 up. Yet Alabama senior Scott Strohmeyer and junior Trey Mullinax pulled out their matches for the Crimson Tide, giving the No. 2-ranked team in the country its eight tournament title of year.
"You could tell Alabama had an edge to them today," Illinois coach Mike Small said. "They've been through this last year. Going through it once and not winning is a powerful feeling. When you group that together and come back this year, you could tell they had their mind made up that they were going to get this done."
It was fitting perhaps that Whitsett's point in his eventual 3-and-2 win over Burge was the clincher. At Riviera CC, he lost 1 up in the deciding match against Texas' Dylan Frittelli when he missed the green on the 18th at Riviera then had his club go under his ball without it moving on a third shot, before Frittelli rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt.
"With everything at stake, it's so high pressure and high intensity," Whitsett said. "I think it was almost worse having played it last year and then having to do it again. I knew what I was going to be in for."
Yet he rose to the occasion, winning his third match of the week, as did Wyatt.
The pain of 2012 won't ever go away. But the cheers of 2013 sure will take away a lot of the sting.
Photo by J.D. Cuban
MILTON, GA.—The heartbreak was evident the moment California senior Max Homa's seven-foot par putt lipped out on the second extra hole, giving Illinois' Thomas Pieters a victory in the deciding match of their schools' NCAA semifinal clash. Homa hunched over, hands covering his face, as a hushed moan came from the Cal faithful watching on, the dream season for the Golden Bears having just come to a sudden, painful end.
Winning three of the five matches against California, Illinois moved on to Sunday's final round at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course where they will face the 2012 NCAA runner-up Alabama, a 3-0-2 winner over Georgia Tech in the other semifinal match. In the process, the Fighting Illini became just the fourth team to beat the Bears in a magical 2012-13 campaign.
Unfortunately for California, four turned out to be one too many.
Eleven victories in 14 tournaments, a 203-4-1 head-to-head record and five golfers who finished the season with 70.9 averages or lower allows these boys from Berkeley to go down, statistically speaking, as having had the best single season of any college team in history.
But the realization that it won't be capped with a national title was difficult to comprehend for coach Steve Desimone.
"It's hard to believe it's over," Desimone said. "I don't know the next time a season like this is going to happen. Maybe it's going to happen next year. Maybe it's not going to happen for another 50 years. But I'll tell you there's nothing that happened today that diminishes that. My humble opinion, this is the best college golf team that ever played.
"It will be a very rough afternoon and a tough few days, but what they've accomplished is going to live a long time," Desimone added. "Whether we won or lost here, the season we've had is unique in the history of college golf, and we're going to be able to celebrate that for a long time."
Interestingly, many of the squads that can make the argument for being considered the best college golf teams in history actually fell short of winning an NCAA crown. While Wake Forest won NCAA titles in 1974 and 1975, its 1976 team was considered by many as the best of the era but finished fourth at nationals. In 1981-82, UCLA won 13 of 20 tournaments but was sixth at nationals. And in 1985-86, Oklahoma State won 10 team titles but came in second at nationals.
The frustration, though, of having the season end in this way was obvious and chilling.
MILTON, GA.—No rest for the weary is the best way to describe the situation for Illinois. Having beaten the No. 1-ranked team in the country in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship, the Illini get to come back Sunday and face the No. 2-ranked school, Alabama.
Oh, and I might add a hungry Alabama squad. The Crimson Tide suffered a painful 3-2 defeat to Texas in the final round of the 2012 NCAA Championship, a loss that has been a rallying cry for the team even if it hasn't been spoken about since the 2012-13 season began.
"I'm pretty overwhelmed," said Alabama coach Jay Seawell after his squad beat the host school, Georgia Tech, 3-0-2 in their Saturday semifinal tilt. "It has been 365 days of answering questions and thinking about last year. And to do it again, it's really hard to do. I'm really proud of our guys. I'm very thankful and excited for the opportunity tomorrow.
Leading the charge was junior Cory Whitsett, the SEC player of the year, who claimed a convincing 3-and-2 victory over Georgia Tech's Ollie Schniederjans. It was his second straight bogey-free round in match play; over his 30 holes Friday and Saturday he has also made 11 birdies.
Justin Thomas, the 2012 college national player of the year, knocked off Seth Reeves, 3 and 1, while Trey Mullinax beat Shun Yat Hak, 4-and-3.
"They're awesome," Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. "Those three guys [Whitsett, Thomas and Bobby Wyatt] at the front may be three of the best eight or nine players in the country. They all may be on the Walker Cup team. Trey played very well today and Scott [Strohmeyer] has been around a long time. That's a really good team."
With the Crabapple Course being only four hours from Tuscaloosa, the anticipation of a sizable Crimson Tide contingent being in attendance Sunday might provide an interesting intangible.
That said, Seawell's squad might not need any intangibles. This spring, the team won five out of six tournaments, the only blemish being a T-2 at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas. It was a performance overshadowed by California's historic 2012-13 campaign, but one that might come to full light if the team can avenge last year's NCAA final loss and claim the title tomorrow.