By Jonathan Salinas
The UTPA men’s golf team will have more to play for than just pride now that the American Sky Conference received an automatic qualifying bid for the 2012 season.
If the Broncs can come out on top of their conference, they would advance to regionals and compete for the NCAA Championship at the end of the season.
“For us to be in an automatic qualifying conference, this is a big honor,” said fifth-year Director of Golf Operations Ofelia Lopez. “Now these guys understand what they’re playing for.”
The Broncs played in four tournaments during the 2011 fall season and improved in each one.
With the Broncs’ consistent improvement throughout the 2011 season, the young team has high expectations for themselves especially with the new incentive of having at least a shot at a national title.
In the four tournaments that the Broncs competed during the 2011 fall term, they finished in the Top 10 twice.
In the first tournament of the season, the Broncs finished last but senior Santiago Bueno, who tallied a score of 148 after two rounds, finished 24th out of 100 golfers.
They later finished 8th out of 12 schools at the Harold Funston Invitational and 6th out of eight schools at the Houston Baptist University Husky Invitational.
This recent shift towards success may seem new to those that don’t keep up with the program, but winning is nothing new to UTPA golf.
“We won our conference two years ago, and it was a big honor. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before,” Lopez said about the added pressure to win this year.
Even with a history of winning, the overall youth of the squad could be seen as liability the further in the season they go. However, Lopez believes that the opportunity to prove themselves will propel the men’s team to the next level.
“Right now I have a young team and I think that might be a bit of an advantage,” she said. “They’re eager and they want that chance to be able to go to regionals.”
The Broncs open the season on Feb. 19 at Jackson State University.
“If we go out and have our best day,” Lopez added, “there’s no way some other team can beat us.”