June 6, 2010

By Bucky Dent, Special to NCAA.com

OOLTEWAH, Tenn. -- Imagine starting a basketball program from scratch and making the NCAA Tournament in your first year, then doing it every year after that. Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it?

Well, that's exactly what the Oklahoma State's men's golf team has done for 64 consecutive years.

Saturday, the top-seeded Cowboys put themselves in position for an 11th national championship, waiting out a weather delay of nearly two hours to polish off Oregon 3 ½ - 1 1/2 in the match-play semifinals at The Honors Course.

OSU will meet upstart Augusta State, a 4-1 winner over No. 2 Florida State, for the title at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The match has been moved up 2 1/2 hours in an attempt to finish it before expected afternoon thunderstorms hit the area.

"Our confidence has to be high," senior Trent Whitekiller said.

How dominant have the Cowboys been this week? Their 14-under aggregate score for 54 holes on Tuesday-Thursday was four shots better than anyone else during stroke play.

And in match play, OSU has recorded 7 1/2 of a possible 10 points, with just two of its eight cumulative points at stake by the 18th hole.

Simply put, the Cowboys have played well enough that opposing coaches haven't felt much need to put a Chuck Tanner happy face on the results.

"Kevin Tway made five or six birdies out of seven holes," Stanford coach Conrad Ray said following Friday's 4-1 quarterfinal loss at OSU's hands. "I know that Trent Whitekiller hit an unbelievable shot on the 18th hole against Andrew Yun out of the trees right up there on the green from 200 yards. They are tough and they always are."

"We knew we'd have to play great and we didn't," Oregon coach Casey Martin said after Saturday's defeat. "We parred our way around and you can't beat Oklahoma State like that."

Not only have the Cowboys been good every year, they've been great more often than not. This year's trip to the semifinals marked the 50th time they've finished in the top five.

They're the New York Yankees of college golf, only without a nine-figure payroll and multiple networks fawning over their every move.

"When you only have three coaches in 64 years, that tells you it's about stability," OSU coach Mike McGraw said.

McGraw took over five years ago after Mike Holder moved to the athletic director's chair. In 32 years running the Cowboy program, Holder won eight national titles and finished first or second in nearly two-thirds of the team's tournaments, an astounding ratio for this sport.

Some might have looked at succeeding Holder as a task equal to that of following Dean Smith or Cliff Gustafson, but McGraw took a different tack.

"There is pressure, but I'd rather be somewhere where I was expected to win than be a place where we weren't," McGraw said. "And it helps that the AD coached the sport for 32 years. He knows what it takes."

Talent helps as well, but some good old-fashioned hard work has been a part of all 64 appearances.

In 1947, Labron Harris started the program from scratch, taking five players from Stillwater and winning the Missouri Valley Conference title in his first shot out of the box.

This year, Whitekiller has been the star during match play. A former walk-on who passed up scholarship opportunities because he wanted to "test myself against the best," Whitekiller won both of his matches this weekend, shooting 4-under in his 14-hole elimination of Oregon's Isaiah Telles.

"I could have gone other places and been on scholarship right away," he said, "but I wanted to be part of this."

With one more win Sunday, Whitekiller and his teammates will enter an ever-growing pantheon of OSU golf champions.