Sooners Ready to Begin Spring Slate

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to SoonerSports.com

Ryan Hybl admits there are brief moments he secretly reminisces at the decade he has spent as Oklahoma men’s golf coach, and there’s plenty to admire.

In 2009, Hybl inherited a once-proud program that struggled to break into the top 100 in national team rankings. This season, OU is seeking its ninth straight NCAA Championships appearance while being one of only three programs to advance the last eight seasons. The Sooners also are the only team to advance to match play the three previous seasons by finishing in the top eight at the NCAA’s 72-hole team qualifier.

“Knowing where we came from, I do have certain opportunities throughout the year where I’m able to look back and let it all sink in and enjoy where we came from,” Hybl said. “But I’m always thinking ahead and trying to help our guys get better.”

The remarkable rise under Hybl reached the summit in 2017 when the Sooners won the program’s second NCAA championship ever, joining the 1989 team.

Last season, OU won its first Big 12 Conference crown since 2006. “That was a huge step for us,” Hybl said of capturing the program’s 17th conference title of all-time.

The Sooners also won the NCAA Norman Regional on their home course at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club and the season ended in the match play quarterfinals at the NCAA Championships in Stillwater at Karsten Creek Golf Club.

“Expectations ebb and flow throughout a given season,” Hybl said. “The overall picture, I think we’re at that point where the guys know what it takes to get to that Final Eight (match play). And if you get to that Final Eight, anybody has a chance.”

But at this moment, Hybl’s thoughts no doubt are consumed with the opening of his team’s spring schedule at the Puerto Rico Classic in Rio Mar, which runs Sunday through Tuesday.

“We’ve had a great run here lately,” Hybl said. “Our guys’ expectations are right where they need to be, but it’s a long season.”

Though impressive, OU’s recent history is precisely that – history.

Now come new expectations.

“My expectations are for us to just keep getting better,” said Hybl, who was tabbed 2018 Big 12 Coach of the Year. “We don’t really think that much about winning the championship. I don’t. I’m really concentrating on what’s happening right now and what will happen down in Puerto Rico. The championship is so long from now. A lot of things can happen. I’ve seen it. Even the last couple of seasons, when our team has been super successful, our team dynamic changed quite a bit throughout the year. That may sound like coach-speak to some, but it’s true.”

This season, the Sooners will defend their Big 12 crown while trying to extend their run to four consecutive NCAA match play appearances.

Last year’s team tied a program record with four All-Americans honorees in Brad Dalke, Grant Hirschman, Blaine Hale and Quade Cummins. Dalke was a second-team selection while Hirschman, Hale and Cummins were honorable mention.

Dalke set the OU single-season record for stroke average at 70.97, beating the previous mark of 71.36 set by Anthony Kim in 2005. Dalke had one victory and eight top-10 finishes last season while carding a team-high 14 rounds in the 60s.

Cummins provided a spark in the spring season, posting a 71.63 stroke average, recording six top-10 finishes and a trio of third-place finishes. Hale and his 71.69 stroke average claimed six top-10 finishes, including a season-best fourth-place finish at the NCAA Norman Regional.

Hirschman, who finished in a four-way tie for individual medalist honors in the Big 12 Championships at Southern Hills in Tulsa, was lost to graduation, but seniors Hale and Dalke return as does Cummins, a redshirt junior who was named to the initial watch list for this year’s Ben Hogan Award.

“Every week is a different week,” Hybl said. “These guys know how I work, but we’re trying to create new, fresh things. Every year, I’m trying to change it up. I think you can get a little stale at times grinding week after week after week.  We’re trying to develop their game, create some pressure situations, which can be hard to do at home at times. But I like them feeling those nerves back at home so we can go have some fun on the road and not be so worried about it.”

Also expected to contribute this season are junior Garett Reband, junior Riley Casey and freshmen Logan McAllister and Patrick Welch, but only five players are allowed in the starting lineup.

“We’ve got some depth, for sure, and we’ve got some talent,” Hybl said. “We’ve just got to figure out how to dig in and become as gritty as I want our teams to always be. Our job this spring is to try and figure that out.”

OU opened the 2018-19 fall season with back-to-back victories in the Carmel Cup at Pebble Beach, Calif., and the Gopher Invitational at Independence, Minn. The Sooners have won six out of their last 10 stroke-play tournaments dating back to January 2018.

“We had a good fall,” Hybl said. “We started out really great but hit some stumbling blocks mid-fall. Some guys weren’t as sharp as they were earlier. Overall, it was still a very good fall for us.”

Cummins was named Big 12 Golfer of the Month for November after leading the Sooners to a third-place finish at the Ka’anapali Classic in Lahaina, Hawai’i. He placed second in the event by shooting a 15-under-par 198, which is the third-lowest three-round score in program history.

A native of Weatherford, Cummins also won the Marathon Sun Bowl All-America Classic on Nov. 20, winning the tournament with a playoff victory Georgia’s Spencer Ralston. Cummins forced the playoff by posting a bogey-free 62 in the final round, tying the tournament record for the lowest round in event history. He had 17 birdies and an eagle over three rounds of play. 

“Each year, our success allows guys to keep building on that foundation of confidence and what it takes to get there,” Hybl said. “We do have an older group this year, but with a mixed bag of young guys. Those expectations bleed into those young guys. They understand coming to play here is an opportunity, an honor and a privilege, but now it comes with expectations of performing and producing.”

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