The championship trophy for the Cougar Classic golf tournament has not left the BYU campus in 20 years. That's longer than some of the golfers in this year's event have been alive.
While the Long-standing domination may not change this year, if ever there was a chance for someone else to jump up and grab the trophy, this is the year.The 26th annual tournament which features eight teams, gets under way Friday at Riverside Country club with 36 holes of play beginning at 8 a.m. and concludes with 18 holes Saturday beginning at 8 a.m.
For the first time since around the turn of the century, Karl Tucker's Cougars are having a down year. BYU has not been ranked in the national top 20 all season and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time.
This was supposed to be another banner year of the Cougs, but two underclassmen, Brent Franklin and Steve Schneiter, unexpectedly turned professional las summer, leaving a void in Tuckker's lineup that has been hard to fill.
The Cougars have been led by senior Bruce Brockbank, who won the Western Intercollegiate trounament last month. Another senior, Jon Baker, has had an inconsistent career at BYU, but he played well in his last outing at the Sun Devil Classic where he finished 10th. Other regulars for the Cougars include freshmen Brad Sutterfield and Eric Rustand and senior Bill Nicholl.
"This tournament is important for those of us seeking to strengthen our bid for one of the three region spots for the NCAA tournament," said Tucker. "We are glad to be home to prove we are worthy of an NCAA berth."
Of the seven teams the Cougars are playing host to, four--New Mexico, Utah. Weber State and Cal-Santa Barbara--could be called legitimate contenders to unseat the Cougars.
The Lobos have a solid team led by John Jackson and Sean Murphy. The Lobos finished second in the Western Intercollegiate last month, while BYU finished sixth. In the season-long competition between the two schools, which determines NCAA participation, New Mexico has the edge on BYU.
Utah has been having a successful, yet frustrating season, while Weber State has been up and down. Cal-Santa Barbara has an improving program led by Scott Cuppett and Jimmy Osborn, along with a secret weapon in Phil Tucker, who took his talents to Southern California away from his father's successful program.
The Utes are led by Blair Philip, who is having a good enough season to make the nationals as an individual if the team doesn't. The British Columbia native is joined by Utah products Matt Johnson, Doug Roberts, Devin Dehlin, Cory Gust and Eric Nielsen. The latter three edged three teammates in a 36-hole qualifying earlier this week.
"We're potentially a lot better than we've been showing, but we've been beating ourselves," said Ute Coach Ron Branca. "I'm hoping we can give (BYU) a run for their money in their own backyard."
Mac Madsen's Weber team has two of the best players in the tourney in Carito Villaroman and Miguel Tola, but the Wildcats' success will depend on how the rest of the team plays.
The other schools include UNLV of the PCAA, Boise State of the Big Sky and Air Force of the WAC. Utah State, an annual participant, won't be playing this year because the PCAA tournament is schedules for early next week in San Jose. Since the Aggie team must drive rather than fly (like fellow PCAA members UNLV and Santa Barbara will), they won't be playing in Provo this week.
A banquet for all the players and coaches will kick things off Thursday evening. BYU quarterback Steve Young is the featured speaker.