Oklahoma State has home course advantage at NCAA tourney

Monday, May 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma State, an annual fixture on the leader board at the NCAA men's championships, would appear to have the most important edge of all over the rest of the field this year.

The four-day tournament that begins Tuesday is being played on the Cowboys' home course, Karsten Creek Golf Club, a par-72 carved out of the blackjack and scrub oak trees west of Stillwater.

The golf course opened in 1994 and was voted best new public course that year by Golf Digest. T&L Golf Magazine ranked it the No. 1 university course in the country.

The course was the dream of Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder, who has raised an estimated $20 million for it, and has given $700,000 of his own funds. He raised $500,000 to hold the NCAA championships, much of which went to make the event special for the 156-player field.

``This is not about the Oklahoma State golf team,'' Holder said. ``This is about hosting a championship of what I consider to be major proportions. Most of these players will not play on the PGA Tour. For a lot of them, this will be one of the neatest tournaments they've ever played in. We want it to be a positive experience.''

Minnesota is the defending champion. Oklahoma State is one of the favorites, and not just because of the team's local knowledge of the 7,301-yard course that is so wooded, players can't even see another hole until they get to the 16th green.

The Cowboys are led by Hunter Mahan, who won the Big 12 title by 13 shots and shared the Ben Hogan Award as collegiate player of the year with Ricky Barnes of Arizona.

Mahan is one of 130 All-Americans who have played under Holder during the coach's 30 years at the school. Holder believes the junior from McKinney, Texas, has a good chance to become OSU's eighth NCAA medalist. Mahan finished third a year ago.

``I'm telling you, this golf course is perfect for him,'' Holder said. ``He drives the ball straight and is a very good iron player. Regardless of what happens, he couldn't have a better opportunity.''

Clemson, Wake Forest, UCLA, Arizona and Texas are among the other teams expected to contend for the championship. Clemson, winner of the East Regional, is ranked No. 1 in the latest coaches poll and has finished first or second in 11 of its 12 stroke-play events this season.

The Tigers are led by D.J. Trahan, last year's winner of the Hogan award who put off his pro career to play his senior season.

``Just knowing we've had a great year is special,'' Trahan said. ``This is what I came back for _ to win the NCAAs. That might not happen. But you know what? We've got a great chance.''

Oklahoma State won the Central Regional and UCLA beat Arizona by a stroke at the West Regional. Minnesota tied for seventh at the Central Regional.