A dozen teams will be chasing BYU this weekend when the 27th annual Cougar Classic golf tournament is played at the Riverside Country Club. But if you're looking for a winner, ignore the field and go with the Cougars.
The Cougars have won the tourney 20 years running and most times it hasn't even been close. Last year, the Cougs beat Utah by 31 strokes, a typical margin since Arizona State won here in 1968. The closest call for BYU came in 1979 when the Cougars edged Weber State by one shot.Until recently, it looked like the Cougars would be hard-pressed to win their own tournament this year. They lost last year's medalist Brad Sutterfield to a mission and last year's top player, Bruce Brockbank, to graduation. Only one player, Rafael Ponce, played on last year's team. But Coach Karl Tucker has re-built his team quicker than most people thought possible. Last week at the Sun Devil Classic, the Cougars stayed close the whole way before finishing in seventh place, ahead of national powers such as Oklahoma State.
"Last week we proved we can play with the big guys. We are peaking just right for the WAC Championships," said Tucker. "We just need to put up five solid scores every day and let every one try to beat them. This is our last non-conference competition and it's a tight race to be one of the six teams to qualify for the regionals (played after the WAC to qualify for the NCAAs)."
Besides Ponce, a senior, the Cougars will be led by junior Roberto Herrera, and freshmen Ryan Rhees and Ramon Brobio.
Top challengers to BYU are expected to be New Mexico, Utah, San Jose State, Stanford and UNLV. Last May, in the last big tournament played at Riverside, Utah edged BYU by four strokes in the Western Athletic Conference championships, with New Mexico another stroke back.
Both the Utes and Lobos have most of their top players back. The Utes are led by Matt Johnson, the WAC medalist, who was also third in last year's Cougar Classic. Other top Utes include Doug Roberts, Eric Nielsen and Marty Romney. New Mexico is led by Derek Crawford, who finished third at the WAC meet last year.
Other teams in the 13-team field include Utah State, Weber State, Cal-Santa Barbara, Boise State, Wyoming, Cal-Berkeley, and Colorado. Some golfers who could challenge for medalist honors besides those mentioned above, include Weber State's Carito Villaroman, Santa Barbara's Donn Parsons, San Jose State's Dana Jetter and Mike Foster and Stanford's Brad Joondeph and Mark Funseth.
Tee off time Friday will be at 8 a.m. for the first 18 holes, with an approxomite tee off time of 1 p.m. for the second 18. On Saturday tee off for the final 18 holes of the 54-hole tourney is 8 a.m. Admission is free to the public at the 6,902-yard Riverside course.
The Cougar Classic is the last tuneup for the four WAC teams which will compete at the WAC Championships in Albuquerque, May 4-6.