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Published: Saturday, 5/23/2009

Nation s best face Inverness best

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The No. 7 hole at Inverness Club is considered one of the finest par-4 holes ever designed by the legendary course architect Donald Ross. The hole will play at 481 yards during the NCAA tourney. The No. 7 hole at Inverness Club is considered one of the finest par-4 holes ever designed by the legendary course architect Donald Ross. The hole will play at 481 yards during the NCAA tourney.
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Every fall for the last eight years, the top collegiate men s golfers have visited Inverness Club, with teams using the last few trips to the Inverness Intercollegiate to prepare for this week s NCAA championships.

With the NCAA s specifications enacted onto the course, the notes the nation s best players made in September will still be generally accurate. But a message of warning: Inverness will be Inverness on steroids.

It s going to really present a challenge for the college players, said David Graf, Inverness head golf professional. It will be eye-opening for them.

The NCAA championships starting Tuesday will be the first big tournament at Inverness ever played over 7,000 yards 7,255 to be specific. And in some spots, the rough will be as long as five inches.

It will have a U.S. Open feel to it, University of Toledo coach Jamie Mauntler said.

The Inverness rough is normally 2 inches. Not only will the best college players on the top 30 teams have to deal with rough twice that height if their shots go awry, the rough will feature the addeddifficulty of spring moisture.

Jamie Lovemark of Southern California, battling a rib injury, is shooting for his second NCAA individual title in three years. Jamie Lovemark of Southern California, battling a rib injury, is shooting for his second NCAA individual title in three years.
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For major championship golf we always grow the rough deeper, Graf said. The difference was that in other majors, for example the PGA Championships are inAugust, even though the rough was long, it was much more wispy and dried out. May rough is so thick and lush.

In the four U.S. Opens we ve hosted, none have ever been played under par and part of the reason is the early June rough is so deep. Late May rough is even worse than early June rough.

What might be the toughest ever setup at Inverness has a purpose. The quality of college golf has shown great improvement in the last 10-15 years, according to Golfweek senior writer Ron Balicki, who will be covering his 25th NCAA championship this week. Over that time he has not only seen players improve their overall physiques, he s seeing athletes who used to pick football and basketball as their sports of focus choose golf instead.

Some of these guys, they should be a linebacker for the football team, Balicki said. They re big and strong.

Mauntler said when Tiger Woods began playing on the PGA Tour in 1996, that inspired the children just beginning to play sports to try golf.

When I played college golf the guys were 5-foot-8, 5-9, Mauntler said. A little more athletic, a little stronger, more coordinated makes a big difference.

The advance of equipment and facilities around the country has also changed things, Balicki said. With better athletes, there is more competition, driving programs to be the best.

Fifteen years ago, there were probably a half-dozen schools that could legitimately win an NCAA championship, Balicki said. Now you have 30 schools that could possibly do it. More schools are putting more emphasis on golf. They re putting the money into it. You look at all these new facilities, between clubhouses, practice areas, golf courses, the schools are really backing the golf program.

Several schools can be considered favorites at Inverness. Top-seeded Oklahoma State is playing as well as any team, winning its regional with Kevin Tway taking medal honors. Last fall the Cowboys won the PING/Golfweek Preview Invitational at Inverness and freshman Morgan Hoffmann tied for first.

Georgia came into regionals as the No. 1 team and hopes to win its second national title in five years. Florida, Arizona State and Washington, all playing well, could be crowned champion when the third round of match play concludes Saturday.

The individual title is awarded after 54 holes. Jamie Lovemark of Southern California, who won in 2007, will try to win another, although he missed the last round of regional with a strained muscle in his rib cage. Rickie Fowler of Oklahoma State, Clemson s Kyle Stanley and Matt Hill of North Carolina State will challenge.

There s 10-12 guys in this field who are going to be future PGA Tour players, Mauntler said. It will be interesting to see how they play on that course setup. I think even par will be a great score.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:mfulton@theblade.comor 419-724-6160.



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