Hutchinson Oklahoma State's stranglehold on men's golf in the Big 12 Conference might be slipping just a bit.
That would be just fine with the rest of the league.
Kansas won the Big 12 title in 1999 and finished runner-up to the Cowboys last year. OSU has won three of four Big 12 tournaments and a total of 48 league golf titles, but it won't be the favorite when the 2001 league tournament tees off this morning at Prairie Dunes Country Club. That distinction goes to No. 5-ranked Texas, which garnered the most votes in a poll of the Big 12 coaches last week.
Of course, no one is quite ready to hand the trophy to the Longhorns. There's 36 holes of golf to be played today and 18 more on Tuesday. And UT will have plenty of company on the leaderboard. No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Oklahoma, No. 34 KU and No. 49 Colorado are also ranked in MasterCard's top 50.
"Obviously, this is our most important tournament so far," KU coach Ross Randall said. "If we play well, we'll be very competitive with everybody."
Trouble is, Kansas doesn't always play well. The Jayhawks do have eight top-four finishes, including victories at the Kansas Invitational, Rice Intercollegiate and Stevinson Ranch Invitational. But they also placed seventh at Stanford, sixth at Louisiana Classics and, most recently, ninth in the Intercollegiate on April 14-15 at Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Carolina event featured 10 of the nation's top 12 teams.
"It was a tough field, but we didn't play well," Randall said. "We haven't played well all spring, even though we've won some tournaments. We don't have the consistency we'd like."
In other words, seniors Conrad Roberts and Andy Stewart, juniors Travis Hurst and Casey Harbour, and sophomore Chris Marshall all have played well. They just haven't done it at the same time.
"I think our biggest frustration is that we know we're a good team," Randall said. "When you're not clicking, everybody gets frustrated. A couple of them are trying too hard."
Hurst has been the Jayhawks' most consistent performer and ranks fourth in the league in stroke average at 72.57. Hurst, a junior college All-American last year at Butler County Community College, was medalist at the Purina Classic in St. Charles, Mo., and at the Stevinson Ranch Invitational in California.
"Travis Hurst has one of the best records in the Big 12, but he's never seen Prairie Dunes before," Randall said.
Hurst got his first look at the private course during Sunday's practice round.
"He has been a pleasant surprise," Randall said of the junior, who was a two-time state champion and two-time state runner-up at Erie High School. "He hasn't played as well this spring as he did in the fall. Every place he's played has been new to him."
Pity. The Dunes can make the best golfers look foolish with its high rough and constant wind. The course, which will be the site of the 2002 Women's U.S. Open, has been ranked 13th nationally by Golf Digest and 17th in the world by Golf Magazine.
While Hurst and Marshall will be playing in the league tournament for the first time, Stewart, Harbour and Roberts have been there before.
Roberts finished sixth in the league tournament last year and was 20th two years ago when the Jayhawks won the title. Stewart tied for 15th last year, while Harbour was fourth.
The top returning finisher is UT's Matt Brost, who was third last year. Texas has seven top-four finishes this year, and freshman Jason Hartwick is third in the league with a 71.8 stroke average.
OSU hasn't won a tournament yet this year, but there's still time. Junior Anders Hultman and sophomore J.C. DeLeon return from last year's NCAA championship team. Hultman ranks among the top 10 nationally and leads the league in stroke average at 70.44.
Top individuals include Baylor senior Jimmy Walker, who ranks second in the league with a 71.6 stroke average.
"There's a lot of good players," Randall said. "It could be any one of several guys."