New-look Oklahoma State with plenty to prove at Seminole
JUNO BEACH, Fla. – After a long day of traveling and practice, Oklahoma State senior Dillon Stewart fired up his laptop Saturday night in his Florida hotel room to catch former teammate Eugenio Chacarra vie for his first professional victory at the LIV Thailand event. With he and the rest of the Cowboys getting their first look at Seminole Golf Club the next morning in preparation for this week’s Jackson T. Stephen Cup, Stewart fell asleep mid-round, only to wake up around 3:30 a.m. ET for the final few holes as Chacarra put the finishing touches on his maiden title.
“It was awesome,” Stewart said as he made the turn during Sunday’s college-am event, Stewart’s second trip of the day around the venerable layout.
Stewart is soaking in every second of this opportunity. So, too, are his fellow Cowboys, who look a bit different than they did a few months ago but are eager to prove themselves against an elite field – North Carolina, Stanford and reigning NCAA champion Texas highlight the seven-team men’s competition – and on one of the top golf courses in the world.
Gone is Chacarra, the first-team All-American who had announced his intentions to return for a fifth year before accepting a lucrative offer to join LIV Golf earlier this summer.
Not at Seminole is the team’s new leader, Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen, who injured his back in the weight room before tweaking the injury at last week’s tournament at Colonial Country Club.
And no longer with the team is another past All-American in Brian Stark, who failed to qualify for the team’s first two events before last week informing Cowboys head coach Alan Bratton that he wanted to transfer. Stark entered the portal last Thursday, and because he hasn’t hit a golf shot this fall, he is expected to be able to compete for his new team this spring.
“He came into my office and said he wasn’t happy and wanted to go somewhere else,” Bratton said. “You don’t want someone to be where they don’t want to be. They’re all still friends, and everybody wants the best for everybody. Hopefully he finds a place where he’s happier and can thrive.”
With a lineup that only features two players – Bo Jin and Jonas Baumgartner – from the one that advanced to the quarterfinals last May at Grayhawk, Oklahoma State will look for its first top-5 finish of the fall this week, which features 54 holes of stroke play – 27 each on Monday and Tuesday – followed by one round of match play on Wednesday. The Cowboys finished seventh at Olympia Fields before placing sixth at Colonial, though both tournaments are arguably the two toughest of the fall slate each season.
Stewart and fellow senior Leo Oyo are logging their first action of the season this week. Oyo hasn’t been in the starting lineup since last year’s Colonial event. Stewart has gone longer, not playing since last fall’s season opener at Pebble Beach. Senior Hazen Newman is also in this week’s lineup, but he hasn’t finished better than 38th in two starts this season.
Among the Cowboys at Seminole, only Baumgartner has posted a top-20 finish this fall – he has two of them.
“Certainly, this is an opportunity for some guys – I mean, they’re veteran guys, but some of them haven’t been in real leadership roles,” Bratton said. “Both Rasmus and Jonas had good summers, and they’ve rolled right into playing well this fall. Now, we need some other guys to step up and do the same thing. … Brian was going to play himself into the lineup eventually, so someone is going to have to fill that role, too.”
What a venue to build some confidence and momentum, though as Bratton argued, “This place can also expose you if you don’t play well.”
But perhaps Chacarra’s win across the globe will inspire his former teammates. The Spaniard has remained close with many of the current players, and he has recently spent a lot of time playing and practicing with the guys in Stillwater, Oklahoma. When LIV held an event near Chicago concurrently with the Olympia Fields event about two hours away, Chacarra flew up with the team.
“I went back to see what I was doing in college because I was working so good and I didn’t do as good the first four weeks as a pro, and it was just try to have fun and then play to not make bogeys,” Chacarra told reporters this week after a slow start to his pro career with LIV. “Kind of play smart on the course, and that’s what I’ve started doing this week.”
Bratton, the only Cowboys coach in South Florida this week as assistant Donnie Darr is with some other players at an individual event, also stayed up to watch his former player’s first win. He called Chacarra one of the most pro-ready guys he’s coached, and because Chacarra is so recently removed from the college game, he believes it will spur on many of Chacarra’s former peers, teammates and competitors who have gone toe to toe with him the past four years in college golf.
“It’s big for all of college golf, to see a young guy do that – it’s no different than when Matt [Wolff] won [the 3M Open in 2019],” Bratton said.
Now, it’s Oklahoma State’s turn to grab a title of their own and prove that the Cowboys, despite some key losses, are still among the game’s best.