D. Ryan Monceaux
The Cougars men's golf team begins its quest for the school's 17th national title today, a feat unprecedented in college sports.
This year's squad won three tournaments, all in Texas, including the Morris Williams Invitational in Austin, the C-USA Championships in West Columbia and the NCAA Central Regional, held earlier this month in San Antonio.
The NCAA tournament will be held in Albuquerque, N.M., today through Saturday.
The Coogs were led all season by senior Jeff Burns, who finished third in the regional held at Oak Hills Country Club.
Burns will be teaming with BJ Staten, Victor Schwamkrug, Chris Morris and freshman Andy Sanders as they attempt to add another chapter to the record books.
At the regional in San Antonio, the Coogs won by a seven stroke margin over runner-up Nebraska.
UH finished 7-under par, led by Burns 5-under 208. Burns commented that the regional was his best golf memory to date.
"This is the best I have played all year, and combined with graduation, this is the best in my career." Burns graduated before the second round.
The regional win was the first for the Cougars.
The team is also poised to win its first national championship this decade and the first for four-year coach Mike Dirks.
Although it won three times this year, the team played erratically at times.
Between victories at the conference championships and at the Central Regional, the Cougars struggled at the Perry Maxwell Invitational, finishing ninth out of 13 teams.
Golf coach Mike Dirks said his team's showing at the Maxwell tournament served as a motivating factor for the rest of the season.
"We were a little disappointed after the Perry (Maxwell), and we wanted to send a statement by not only qualifying for the NCAA's, but winning the regional," he said.
In the history of the program, the golf team has won 356 tournaments, by far more wins than any other golf team in the nation.
The three wins this year also solidified the team as a consistently Top-10 team, and going into the NCAAs, UH is one of the co-top seeds.
The Cougars won 16 national titles under legendary coach Dave Williams, most recently in 1985.
No team in any other sport has come close to the success that Williams achieved in 40-plus years at Houston.
However, the two coaches since his retirement, PGA touring pro Keith Fergus and Mike Dirks, have not come close to winning a national title.
Indeed, this year's team is Houston's best opportunity to win the NCAAs in the past decade.