While sitting on the couch a couple of years ago with his wife, Rebecca, Oklahoma men’s golf coach Ryan Hybl came up with a potential slogan for the 2016-17 season.
“I didn’t just view it as a tagline,” Hybl explained. “I was always talking to our guys about, ‘You know what, why not us? You guys work your tails off. This is why you guys came to Oklahoma. It is our time. Let’s go show everybody what we can do. It means a lot more than just a hashtag.’ ”
Sure enough, last season indeed was OU’s time as the Sooners claimed their second national title ever in men’s golf and their first since 1989. Seeded 13th entering the championship, OU finished second in the stroke-play qualifier, then clinched the crown with a convincing 3-1-1 victory over defending national champion Oregon in the championship match at the Rich Harvest Farms course in Sugar Grove Township, Ill.
Out to defend their NCAA crown, the 2017-18 Sooners determined this year’s motto with a team vote.
“Every day when we go out as golfers, it’s never enough,” Hybl said. “A good round is never enough (because) you’re ready to go back to the grind and get after it. It’s just never enough. Our workouts are never enough. One championship is never enough. It’s up to our guys to show it’s never enough. That’s what it’s all about.”
Junior Blaine Hale echoed Hybl and said, “We won last year, but that’s not going to be enough for us. We want to go back and win again this year. … We came here because coach Hybl brought a different mindset to the program. He has an intensity about him, but we have fun at the same time. We know when to buckle down and get work done. From my personal standpoint, I’ve always enjoyed a coach who wants to push you to be better – not just a better player, but a better person.”
OU’s spring season begins Sunday in the Puerto Rico Classic at the Rio Mar Resort. The Sooners are No. 6 in this season’s most recent Golfweek/Sagarin collegiate rankings.
Hybl enjoyed years of success both as a player and as an assistant coach growing up in Georgia prior to arriving in Norman in 2009. He knows the demands of defending a title.
“I don’t view it as pressure,” Hybl said of the Sooners’ quest to repeat. “I view it as more confidence for our guys in our program. We’ve been there and done that. I don’t think there was pressure to get back to match play last season (after getting there in 2016). I’d expect our experience to kick in this year, but we’ve got a long way to go until then.”
OU reached match play at the 2016 NCAA Championships, a made-for-TV format that made its tournament debut in 2009. Hybl and his players agree that experience helped prepare the Sooners for last year’s title run.
Hale said he felt the potential in last year’s Sooners. “We never had a week during the season when we all matched up our games when we were all playing good at the same time,” Hale said. “After regionals (a fourth-place finish at Stanford), we kind of got some mojo going at nationals and we all felt really comfortable where we were.”
Hybl chuckled while describing how last year fell into place for his squad. “This game is so funny and fickle every single day you come out,” Hybl said. “Last year was really interesting. You never quite saw our guys all playing well at the same time, with the exception of San Antonio (winning the Lone Star Invitational on March 20-21). But at nationals, you could see our guys were feeling confident, which was huge. The wind blew a little a bit, which I thought was a positive for us. Once we got through that Baylor (quarterfinals) match, I’ll be honest with you, I was feeling pretty good.”
OU performed well in the fall, winning Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational in Portland, Ore., and collecting four top-3 team finishes in five events. Junior Brad Dalke led the team with four top-10 finishes, while senior Grant Hirschman and Hale each had three top-10s. All three players were honorable mention All-American selections last season.
Dalke, posted a team-best scoring average of 69.85 in the fall and is No. 8 in the most recent Palmer Cup rankings.
Though it is not emphasized nearly as much as the spring season, Hybl and his players concur that the fall season matters.
“When we went to Pebble Beach in our first (fall) event, it meant just as much as Puerto Rico does when it comes to regional selections and what not,” Hybl explained. “It is highly valuable and important for our guys to get off to a good start. It puts our team in a really good spot.”
“Fall’s extremely important for all of us,” said Hale, who fired a career-best round of 64 in the first round of the Nike Collegiate Invitational. “You’re setting yourself up for the spring and the rankings. You can kind of get a feel for where your team is. You can work on your game in a lot of aspects and gain some confidence.”
Last year’s Sooners were led by team captain Max McGreevy, another honorable mention All-American who led the team in stroke average (71.40), posting two victories, six finishes in the Top 10 and 10 finishes in the Top 20. Now a member of the Web.com Tour, McGreevy is the lone departure from last year’s roster. His three career titles at OU make him the winningest golfer in the Hybl era.
Now in his ninth season at OU, Hybl has led the Sooners to the three best single-season scoring averages in school history. Last year’s team had two regular-season team victories and a program-best five individual medalists.
OU is one of just five programs to qualify for the NCAA tournament in each of the past seven years.
The Sooners’ initial starting five this spring was determined by open qualifying, which was held this week prior to the team leaving for Puerto Rico on Thursday morning.
“We have 11 guys on my squad and only five get to play,” Hybl explained. “That’s what the internal competition is all about.”