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PGA National (Champion Course)

The Loop

Are the OK State men going to be OK?

January 17, 2012

You could call Mike McGraw an optimist, although it's oversimplifying things. The Oklahoma State men's coach isn't one to insist that the sky is blue when it's actually gray or, more importantly, that his guys are hitting the ball flush when they're scrambling for pars. The better way to describe McGraw is that he's a believer, a man who identifies simple truths and believes they can remain that way in the future when fueled with hard work and discipline.

Why does any of this matter? Well, after needing to replace All-Americans Kevin Tway and Morgan Hoffmann in the Cowboys' starting lineup last fall, McGraw now is in search of somebody to take the place of Peter Uihlein, the former U.S. Amateur champion who decided to pass up the final semester of his senior year to try and earn a European Tour card as a fledging pro, if he hope to keep his squad in contention for a Big 12 and NCAA titles.

It's a task that's as challenging as any coach in the country will have this spring.

True to his spirit, McGraw believes he has the talent to do it. Even if several of the 11 golfers on his current roster (10 really since OSU quarterback __Brandon Weeden__ is still listed on the team) have yet to demonstrate it on the college stage, McGraw is convinced he's got what he needs right there in Stillwater.

"We'll be OK," McGraw said to me last month after Uihlein announced his departure. "All the kids here I have on the team, they were recruited for a reason. They're going to have to step up, but they're perfectly capable of doing that."

Cynics will tell you that's the kind of statement a coach utters when he needs to make sure his team doesn't see desperation coming from its leader. From my perspective, though, I don't think McGraw would say it unless, well, he believed it. Whether he's right or wrong, he's not trying to pull one over on anybody. The farms near OSU's campus sometimes have a malodorous scent, but that's not what's emanating from Karsten Creek GC.

Key for McGraw and Cowboy fans will be for the team's two most experienced players, Sean Einhaus and Talor Gooch, to step up and take more of a leadership role. The junior from Germany and sophomore from Midwest City, Okla., are the only golfers on the OSU squad that have played more than 10 college events. In 23 career starts, Einhaus has seven top-10 finishes, hinting at his potential. Gooch led OSU in scoring this past fall (72.78 average) and matured toward the end of last spring when playing in the postseason for the first time.

Four other current Cowboys competed in the fall, with junior __ Drew Page__ and sophomore Kevin Dougherty each playing in all four events. Page had a T-5 finish at Olympia Fields but could only muster a 74.38 average in 12 rounds. Dougherty's best performance was a T-33 at Olympia Fields, and he failed to break par in any round. Both will need to take the next step in their development to provide depth.

McGraw may have fall back who could provide a spark. Freshman Tanner Kesterson sat out the fall semester, having come down with mono early in the fall. He was a AJGA All-American who was part of the heralded class of 2015, which has seen three first-year players (Alabama's Justin Thomas, Stanford's__Patrick Rodgers__ and Texas' Jordan Spieth) claim individual titles this past fall. Asking Kesterson to step in and quickly become a No. 1 or 2 man in OSU's lineup might be asking a lot, but his contemporaries managed to do it in the fall; why can't he follow suit?

"You know we've always said it over the years at Oklahoma State, you have to be ready to step up. I know those guys are going to do that. I'm not too worried about them."

That wasn't another glass-half-full comment from McGraw, but a quote from Uihlein when asked about how his now former team will fare without him.

Indeed, what's made the Cowboys the premier college golf program the past three decades has been their ability to replace departed stars with hungry understudies. McGraw is confident that can happen again this spring.

But can he make believers out of the rest of us?