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Golf: Weather one of the only things that went right for Cajuns at Louisiana Classics

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, Feb. 26, 2019

UL golf coach Theo Sliman openly admitted he was hoping for a lot more from his team Monday and Tuesday at the 34th Louisiana Classics Tournament at Oakbourne Country Club.

But a lot of other things went right during the annual event that ranks as one of the oldest and best-known collegiate golf events in the South, and as the only home tournament for the Ragin’ Cajuns each season.

For one, the weather cooperated, and that was a major question as late as last week.

“When I was driving home from Houston Tuesday (from UL’s participation in the All-American Invitational), I didn’t think we were going to have this tournament, to be honest,” Sliman said. “I thought we were going to be completely washed out, gully-washed, and we were very fortunate with the weather.”

Cold and windy conditions hung around for all three days of the tournament including Sunday’s College-Am, but the only rain was light and came late in Monday’s second round of the day. No weather delays over three days is all one can ask from a tournament.

“We got the 36-hole day in which was huge,” Sliman said. “And I didn’t think we were going to play (Tuesday) looking at the thunderstorms in the forecast. We didn’t get a drop.”

The Cajuns struggled to an 11th-place finish in the 15-team meet after entering the tournament with high hopes of being among the contenders. McNeese surprised three ranked units and claimed the top prize, shooting a one-under 863 team score to finish seven shots ahead of 26th-ranked and five-time Classics champion Illinois (870), with Texas-San Antonio third (879) and nationally-ranked Kent State fourth (881).

UL finished at 35-over as a team, and was never able to make a push in finishing at 304-295-300—899. That was their highest team score since that same number in 2013, although the weather conditions likely contributed to part of that.

“This group is more talented than that,” Sliman said. “This was kind of a slap in the face with this performance. But we can’t do anything about it and we can’t sulk about it, what we need to do is get better. We need to figure it out, make some adjustments individual, and figure out a way to learn and apply. That’s the philosophy of our program, and it’s time to start applying some lessons earned.”

UL didn’t have an individual finish in the top 30, with junior Jack Tolson and sophomore Cole Kendrick finishing just outside that number in tying for 31st at seven-over 223. It was Tolson’s second time in three spring tournaments to lead the Cajun finishers, after his 71-71—142 had him in 11th place at the rain-shortened Mobile Intercollegiate two weeks ago.

Kendrick, however, was playing in his first tournament of the spring and put up a two-under-par 70 in Tuesday’s final round, the second lowest round for any Cajun behind Peter Hinnant’s solid 68 in Monday’s late round.

“Cole hadn’t played at all since the fall,” Sliman said, “and he had a brilliant round today. I’m very happy and proud of him.”

The Cajuns finished third in their own event in both 2013 and 2014 and fifth two years ago, and they’ve won it twice (1993, 1994) and finished as runners-up three other times. But too often, the host team hasn’t performed up to its capabilities in its only home event, and Sliman said the pressure of playing at home is likely part of the reason.

“No doubt we’ve played better on the road,” he said. “I was talking Monday night with Matt Smith, John Mendell, George Cestia, some old teammates, and we were reminiscing about the same thing, that it’s a challenge to play at home. So much is involved in this tournament, the supporters and the hosts and the club and the membership, these guys feel that pressure. I know it, I’ve been through that myself on these exact fairways many moons ago. With maturity, it’ll come.”

Two things assured at the Louisiana Classics are the quality of the course, with Oakbourne adding to its reputation as a solid shotmaker’s course, and the hospitality of the hosts, club members, sponsors and supporters.

“It’s kind of a dying thing,” said UTSA coach John Knauer, who had a team in the Classics for the 24th time in 34 tournaments with three different schools (Arizona, Texas A&M). “We go to tournaments where it’s obvious the club isn’t excited and enthusiastic about the tournament, and they’re only looking to finish and get it done so the members can have their course back.

“Here it’s completely different. The people here are so supportive and so enthusiastic about having the tournament, they’re proud of it and they do so many things to make the players and the visiting teams feel special. It’s an honor to come here, and I’m going to keep coming back as long as I keep getting invited.”

“It is truly overwhelming,” Sliman said. “Every year it overwhelms me even more the among of support surrounding this tournament. The membership here at Oakbourne is tremendous to us. It’s a top five golf course in Louisiana and it’s an honor and a privilege to host this tournament under their umbrella.

“We have so many people who step up and make this a great event. We’re very lucky and we’re very fortunate.”

"Making the Turn” appears each Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.