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Flames Set to Begin Play at Arizona Regional
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For the first time in five years, Liberty's golf team will tee it up alongside some of the best teams in the country this week at the 2011 NCAA Arizona Regional, with play slated to start on Thursday morning.
Liberty is making its third NCAA Regional trip in program history and the first since earning its second at-large bid in 2006. This year's trip to postseason competition was secured by capturing the Big South Conference title by 31 strokes back in April.
The 54-hole event will be contested at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort in Tucson, Ariz., This par-71, 7,199-yard trek was the long-time home to the Tucson Open, an annual PGA Tour stop 30 times over a 41-year period, starting in 1965.
Some of professional golf's greatest champions raised the trophy at the Tucson Open, including Arnold Palmer (1967), Lee Trevino (1969 and 1970), Tom Watson (1978), Lee Janzen (1992) and Larry Mize (1993). Johnny Miller dominated the Tucson Open for three-straight years (1974-76) following his dramatic U.S. Open win in 1973, while home state hero Phil Mickelson was the tournament victor in 1995 and 1996.
This will be the most challenging field the Flames have faced during their record-setting seasons, as 12 out of 14 teams currently rank inside the Top 75 in the latest Golfstat rankings.
No. 30 Liberty is seeded No. 5, behind No. seed 1 Texas A&M (ranked No. 7 by Golfstat), No. 2 seed San Diego State (No. 8), No. 3 seed Texas Tech (No. 18) and No. 4 seed California (No. 19).
Liberty is one of six automatic qualifiers at the Arizona Regional, joining San Diego State (Mountain West), UC-Davis (Big West), Texas-Arlington (Southland), Loyola Maryland (Metro Atlantic Athletic) and Army (Patriot League).
The top five teams at the end of the three-day event, plus the low individual not on one of the top five teams, will advance to the NCAA National Championship May 31-June 5 at the Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
Achieving a top-five finish has been something that has come with relative ease for the Flames this season. Liberty has finished inside that standard during 10 out of 11 team-scored events, including nine finished at third or better.
Liberty comes into the NCAA Arizona Regional playing some of its best golf of the season, one that has produced a program-record 288.5 stroke average.
The Flames have finished in red figures during their last four tournaments, starting with an 18-under par 846 at the Rio Pinar Invitational in Orlando, Fla., March 16-17.
Liberty followed with an 11-under par 853 at the Border Olympics in Laredo, Texas, an event where the Flames finished 16 strokes ahead of fellow Arizona Regional field member Texas-Arlington.
The Flames posted their best outing of the season with a 20-under par 844 at the River Landing Intercollegiate in Wallace, N.C., on April 8-9, before claiming their first-ever Big South title with an eight-under par 856 at the Patriot Golf Club April 19-21.
The Flames will be paced by Big South Golfer of the Year Robert Karlsson, who will be making his third-straight NCAA Regional trip. Karlsson, currently ranked No. 36 in the country, leads the Flames with a 71.1 stroke average and has seven Top five finishes in 11 events this season.
Max McKay joins Karlsson with previous NCAA Regional experience, as the 2010 Big South Freshman of the Year capped off his rookie season with a postseason trip, last year. At the New Haven Regional, McKay finished tied for 16th place with a one-under par 209 (70-72-67) and Karlsson finished tied for 24th place with a one-over par 211 (66-74-71).
Preston Dembowiak is the veteran on Liberty's roster and the senior is coming off his first collegiate victory. Dembowiak captured medalist honors at the Big South Championship, as he fired a seven-under par 209 (70-66-73), finishing ahead of McKay (213) and Karlsson (214).
Rounding out two-time Big South Coach of the Year Jeff Thomas' starting line-up at this year's NCAA Arizona Regional field will be a pair of Liberty newcomers. Chase Marinell and Andrew Colvin are in the midst of their first year with the program.
Marinell, the third-straight Liberty golfer to capture Big South Freshman of the Year honors, ranks second on the team with a 72.9 stroke average and has finished in red figures three out of his last four tournaments.
Colvin, a transfer from UCF, has played in seven events for the Flames this season and has posted a 75.5 stroke average. The sophomore's best finish was a tie for 11th place at the Century Link Invitational, where he carded a three-over par 147 during the 36-hole event. His top 54-hole score this year was an eight-over 224 at the Seahawk Invitational, which helped the Flames secure a runner-up finish at the February event.
Liberty golf fans wishing to follow the Flames' action at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort can do so via two different avenues.
The NCAA will be providing live scoring for the event, with players reporting their scores every three holes throughout the day.
Additionally, the Liberty Flames Twitter page will be providing hole-by-hole scoring updates for one member of Liberty's starting five each day of the three-day event.
The Flames will be paired up with golfers from No. 4 seed California and No. 6 seed Washington during Thursday's first round action. The trio of teams will be sent off the No. 10 tee, starting at 8:20 a.m. (PST).
Arizona Regional Team Field
Event Host: Arizona
Event Seed (Golfstat Team Ranking)
1. Texas A&M (No. 7)
2. San Diego State (No. 8)
3. Texas Tech (No. 18)
4. California (No. 19)
5. Liberty (No. 30)
6. Washington (No. 31)
7. Pepperdine (No. 41)
8. Oregon State (No. 44)
9. Purdue (No. 54)
10. UC-Davis (No. 55)
11. Arizona (No. 61)
12. Texas-Arlington (No. 67)
13. Loyola Maryland (No. 137)
14. Army (No. 239)
Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa (Tucson, Ariz.)
Par 71, 7,199 yards
Omni Tucson National Golf Resort Photo Gallery
Three photos per hole - First from tee box and second from fairway or green.
No. 1 – Par 4, 402 yards (Members' Handicap: 9)
Tucson National opens up with a gentle par-4 where players hit to a narrowing fairway off an elevated tee box. This hole is a slight dogleg to the right with a green that is surrounded by three bunkers and water that is roughly 20 yards short of the green.
No. 2 – Par 4, 495 yards (Members' Handicap: 17)
No. 2 plays as a par-5 (535 yards) for the members, but will be a par-4 during this week's regional event. The fairway narrows at the landing area with bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The left fairway bunker jets 25 yards out into the fairway and will snag many drives this weekend. The players will be hitting long irons to a green that has no flat putts and is completely sloped from back to front. Par will be a very good score on this hole during the Arizona Regional, as this will be one of the toughest holes on the course.
No. 3 – Par 4, 378 yards (Members' Handicap: 11)
No. 3 is the only hole at Tucson National that is a dogleg left. This hole demands accuracy off the tee with trees lining both sides of the fairway and a body of water long and to the left. The club of choice for most of the collegiate golfers off this tee will be a 3 wood or a hybrid this week. One of only two greens on the course without bunkers surrounding it, this flat green should yield some birdies during the 54-hole event.
No. 4 – Par 3, 170 yards (Members' Handicap: 15)
The first par-3 at Tucson National will test the collegiate golfer this week, as you must carry water the full length off the tee to have any shot at a birdie. The green slopes severely from back to front and anything left on the front edge of the green will roll down a bank and into the water. If the Arizona winds pick up during the weekend, this hole will be very challenging with prevailing left to right winds.
No. 5 – Par 4, 398 yards (Members' Handicap: 13)
Just like No. 4, if the winds pick up this weekend, No. 5 will play much longer than the 398 yards marked on the scorecard with tee shots being hit dead into the teeth of the wind. Several large mounds guard portions of this hole, including the tee shot landing area and left of the elevated green. The green is only 25 yards deep with a deep greenside bunker that protects the front right side of the landing area.
No. 6 – Par 4, 426 yards (Members' Handicap: 3)
One more hole where the wind could play a factor is No. 6, as this par-4 runs directly back alongside No. 5. The golfers should be able to pick up some yardage with a downwind shot off the tee. The landing area off the tee is protected to the right by a bunker that runs roughly 50 yards long. The green is protected to the left by an overhanging tree and a deep bunker, but these only become factors if the pin is tucked front left. The green is large and relatively flat, creating a birdie opportunity.
No. 7 – Par 3, 253 yards (Members' Handicap: 5)
No. 7 is the longest par-3 at Tucson National at 253 yards and getting home in three will be a good score this weekend. The green is large, as it is 40-yards deep, but a sizeable collection bunker on the right could keep some challenging up-and-down shots, as it is below the putting surface. This green is one of the most sloped greens on the course, running from back to front and to the left.
No. 8 – Par 5, 592 yards (Members' Handicap: 7)
Only the longest of hitters will be able to shave off some yardage to the right and carry a bunker that is almost 300 yards to clear off the tee on the first par-5 at the Arizona Regional. Two solid shots will leave a short pitch shot to a green that is surrounded by five bunkers. The first runs the length of the fairway about 50 yards short, creating a challenge for anyone that tries to get home in two. The green is receptive, especially if the pin is on the right side of the green, where there is a natural backstop that should allow the ball to roll almost 15 feet back onto the green.
No. 9 – Par 4, 436 yards (Members' Handicap: 1)
Considered the most challenging hole for the members at Tucson National, the closing hole on the front nine has more than one obstacle to overcome. Water is in play off the tee and to the right, forcing the golfers to stay to the left with their drives. Approach shots will play to the most elevated green on the course, which is guarded by a five-foot deep bunker that runs the length in front of the green. The green is only 22 yards deep, but is flat to offset the main other challenges on this picturesque hole.
No. 10 – Par 5, 516 yards (Members' Handicap: 6)
The opening hole on the back nine at Tucson National could create some scoring opportunities, but a lengthy drive will be required to give the collegiate golfers a look at getting home in two. Water is off to the left for the golfers who pull their shots off the tee, while a good side bunker guards the front right side of this elevated green that has a sizeable slope from back to front. The green is flat toward the back, but that will require the golfers to fully carry the greenside bunker.
No. 11 – Par 4, 432 yards (Members' Handicap: 2)
The handicap number on the scorecard is not a good measure for this hole, as this is the second par-5 shortened to a par-4 for this weekend's event. The water to the right off the tee box should not be a factor this week for the collegiate golfers, provided they do not try to shave off too much to have a closer approach shot. The green is flat, but it is only 17 yards deep with two small bunkers guarding each side of the front of this green.
No. 12 – Par 3, 186 yards (Members' Handicap: 10)
This par-3 is all uphill, playing to a green that is more than 15 yards higher than the tee box. The green is deep, at 33 yards, but is narrow from side to side. The green slopes back to front and is surrounded by six smaller bunkers that will collect any balls that do not find the putting surface off the tee.
No. 13 – Par 4, 405 yards (Members' Handicap: 16)
Considered to be one of the easier holes on the course, players will most likely chose to hit a 3 wood or a hybrid off the tee down into a valley. One of the dangers off the tee is out of bounds to the left and some trees that could obstruct an approach shot. Those who hit the ball off the tee long and to the right will have to contend with a tree that guards the right side of the green, as well as a bunker. This green is narrow at only 21 yards deep and is elevated from the valley that most tee shots should land in.
No. 14 – Par 4, 407 yards (Members' Handicap: 14)
This wide-open, par-4 is a classic hole that is lined with out of bounds on either side of the fairway. However, those who can find the fairway and avoid the two bunkers that jet out from the right will have a relatively easy approach to a flat putting surface. Guarding either side on the front of the 26-yard deep green are two bunkers that are well below the green.
No. 15 – Par 5, 610 yards (Members' Handicap: 8)
Grip it and rip it will be the theme for the final par-5 at Tucson National, as the back tees will have this hole playing at 610 yards. The fairway narrows at the landing area off the tee, with three bunkers creeping out onto the fairway from the left. Two solid shots will leave a short iron approach to a green that is covered to the right by a large expansive bunker, while an uphill slope protects the front left side of this elevated putting surface.
No. 16 – Par 4, 430 yards (Members' Handicap: 12)
The collegiate golfers will have three bunkers to contend with if their tee shot strays to the right on this par-4, dogleg to the right. The approach shot is played into one of the more scenic spots on the course, with the Arizona desert mountains directly behind this elevated green. Three greenside bunkers protect a green that is 25 yards deep and slopes from right to left. If a player's approach shot runs long and to the left, the ball will roll off the back of the green and into a collection area that will leave a tough pitch shot.
No. 17 – Par 3, 191 yards (Members' Handicap: 18)
The players have to wait until the second to last hole to find the easiest hole at Tucson National, as this par-3 plays to the deepest green on the course. The 45-yard deep putting surface is flat, but is guarded by a bunker to the left that runs almost the entire depth of the green. If the pin is on the right side of the green, scores on this hole will be lower than pin placements that near the long bunker.
No. 18 – Par 4, 472 yards (Members' Handicap: 4)
Considered by many to be the most challenging closing hole in golf during its PGA Tour stop days, teams will not want to have to chase a birdie unless they absolutely need to on this difficult hole. The collegiate golfers will be required to land their tee shots on this long par-4 in between two bodies of water, then hit their approach shots to an elevated green that slopes directly back to front. Scores will be high on this hole, with golfers pleased to complete the 7,199-yard trek at Tucson National with one last par.