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Golf: Cajuns hope Louisiana Classics will turn around 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stuff' +UL Rained Out

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, Feb. 19, 2019

One of the top collegiate golf events in the South will have its 34th renewal this Sunday-Tuesday when UL’s Ragin’ Cajun golf team hosts the Louisiana Classics at Oakbourne Country Club.

The tournament is the only home appearance for the Cajuns each year, and UL coach Theo Sliman hopes that playing on familiar turf will help his squad turn things around early in the spring season.

The Cajuns played solidly at times in the spring-opening Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate last week, finishing seventh of 15 teams in an event limited to two rounds and one day due to rain. Early this week, UL also ran into weather issues and had the third round of the All-American Intercollegiate in Houston washed out after the Cajuns struggled in the first two rounds Sunday and Monday.

An 11th place finish out of 14 teams wasn’t what Sliman was looking for in the Houston meet.

“This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stuff needs to stop,” he said. “We do have a lot of belief in our guys. We’ve got a group that we can see something nice evolving, but it’s time for them to step up and have a little more belief in themselves.”

The Louisiana Classics has many times been the catalyst for that to happen. The Cajuns were third in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015, with three of the four teams finishing ahead of them ranked in the top 15 nationally that year. UL finished fifth against another strong field in 2017 but slipped back to a tie for 11th last year.

“We’ve played pretty well at home over the last decade and I’m proud of that,” Sliman said. “We don’t know our five yet, but we’re going to put the best five forward and I have a strong conviction that they’ll put up a good fight.”

Actually, UL will put up 10 players, since for the first time in many years the Cajuns have a large-enough available roster to field “A” and “B” teams. That means that instead of half the Cajun roster competing only for individual honors, they’ll still get the team concept.

The final-day rainout at Houston may change lineup plans some for the “A” team, but maybe not much. Jack Tolson and Micah Goulas were the team leaders in Mobile, both finishing in the top 25 individually including Tolson’s solid 71-71—142 score that put him in 17th place. On Sunday and Monday, it was the other three lineup members that finished atop the Cajun scoreboard, with Bjorn Gudjonsson tying for 36th (75-74—149) and Charlie Flynn and Peter Hinnant tying for 43rd including an opening two-under 70 for Hinnant.

“All those guys will have an opportunity to compete at home and not just as individuals,” Sliman said. “That’ll let them make their mark moving forward the rest of the spring. There’s a lot at stake for all 10 of them.”

The Classics provides the UL program its one opportunity to play in front of most of its supporters, especially those who take an active role in the Classics. The most visible part of that participation comes Sunday in the annual College-Am where team hosts and other local amateurs pair up with the collegiate players in a tournament format.

Such events, which also serve as practice rounds for the collegians, have gone by the wayside at many college events. At the Louisiana Classics, not only has it remained a part of the schedule, but it has flourished, and Sliman said that’s in large part to the locals that get involved.

“It’s really no longer in existence in college golf,” Sliman said, “so I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep that tradition going and keep it with the Classics. It’s an invaluable financial boost to our program, but it also brings an atmosphere that’s unique.

“A lot of the young men playing for their universities are going to wind up playing professionally at some level, and they’re going to be playing in pro-ams similar to what we do. It’s a chance for the coaches to teach their players how to interact with their amateur partners, how to have fun but still be professional and get your work done.

“When guys play in the College-Am, some of them build relationships that continue. Relationships are forged here that last forever … we have players who played in the tournament 25, 30 years ago that still stay in touch with their hosts.”

Many of the College-Am participants are members at Oakbourne, others are part of UL’s Vermilion Links support group, and the rest serve as hosts for the 14 visiting teams in the field. Sliman said the tournament couldn’t operate without all those entities, and that is especially true since the completion of UL’s golf offices and practice facility on the Oakbourne grounds two years ago.

“We have a tremendous amount of support from the community,” Sliman said. “Oakbourne members, Vermilion Links members, we hold all of that in very high regard and it means a heck of a lot to us. Teams want to come back and play and we’ve got a waiting list of teams that want to get in, and that’s a testament to those people, the Cajun culture, to (Oakbourne professional) Cliff Wagner and his staff, and the members of Oakbourne.”

Activities begin with the 8 a.m. College-Am Sunday (a change in time from the normal noon Sunday start), and actual tournament competition begins at 7:30 a.m. Monday with two 18-hole rounds. The final 18 holes are Tuesday, and action both days will be streamed live over www.ragincajuns.com including all play from Oakbourne’s iconic 9th hole and final-round coverage from the 18th hole.

The field includes perennial power Illinois – trying to improve on its No. 23 national ranking – and three other teams in the top 25 in Kent State, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio. The rest of the field includes Wichita State, Toledo, Texas State, Southern Miss, Sam Houston State (the surprise winner of the rain-shortened Houston meet), Rice, Oral Roberts, Missouri-Kansas City, McNeese and Louisiana Tech along with the host Cajuns’ doubled-up teams.

“Sam Houston is sneaky, a lot better than their ranking,” Sliman said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty competitive event with a tight leader board. There’s a lot of schools in this field that on any given day can play some really good golf.”

CHIP SHOTS

RAIN AGAIN: Speaking of the Cajuns, UL had the final round of the All-American Intercollegiate in Houston rained out Tuesday, leaving the squad in 11th place with a 294-305—599 score. Sam Houston State won the event at 283-290—573 followed by Baylor (284-294—578), Houston (286-292—578), South Carolina (292-290—582), Charlotte (287-295—592) and Ole Miss (293-290—583).

Sophomore Bjorn Gudjonsson turned in 75-74 rounds to tie for 36th as the Cajun leader, while freshman Charlie Flynn (74-76) and sophomore Peter Hinnant (70-80) tied for 43rd. Micah Goulas (75-77) and Jack Tolson (76-78) and individual entry Hudson Dubinski (79-80) made up the rest of the UL lineup.

Six of the 14 teams in Houston will be taking part in this weekend’s Louisiana Classics.

"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.