The November day was sunny, as most are in Turtle Bay, Hawaii. Even the name conjures visions of blue waters gently crashing onshore.
Weather reports detail the high and low tides-not temperatures-because it's regularly 85 degrees in the day and 70 at night along the chain of islands.
While most tourists were spending their day snorkeling, walking the beach or watching the surfers, golf coach Jay Rees was anguishing over his team's final round of play.
When sophomore Bobby Massa sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole, it capped a fall season for the record books. A third-place finish at Turtle Bay against a field that included eight of the country's top-50 programs legitimized Rees' Mavericks as among the best in the nation. Over the 54 holes, they shot a school-record 823 (41 under par).
Last fall's success was sweet for Rees and his top players: senior Zack Reeves and sophomores Massa, Bryce Easton and Michael van de Venter.
"The main four guys have been together in tournaments for the past year," said Rees, now in his ninth season. "We have a lot of talent, and they push each other. There could be a different golfer stepping up each tournament, and that takes the pressure off one individual. All the work has come together at once."
The squad achieved its first top-20 ranking earlier in the fall after defeating host UT Austin in its own tournament and winning the UT Arlington Fall Classic.
At Turtle Bay, Reeves set UT Arlington's 54-hole individual record with a 15-under-par 201, breaking the mark Massa set a week before at a tournament in Las Cruces, N.M.
"The core of this team is young, and you can see in practice that we have the ability to put up some low numbers," said Reeves, the UT Arlington career leader in scoring average. "Last year we showed the potential. It was a little confusing and frustrating because we could see the possibilities. We needed a year for those freshmen to mature with experience and set the stage for this year."
Last season, Massa, an Irving native, and South Africans van de Venter and Easton ranked as the third best freshman class in the nation after averaging a collective 74.85 over 78 rounds of tournament play. This season the sophomore trio has turned last season's experience into a 71.91 average.
"Having those four play more than 10 tournaments together has made the difference," Rees said.
The team's quest for a third NCAA berth in four years and a second Southland Conference title since 2005 continues Feb. 25-26 at the Rio Pinar Invitational in Orlando, Fla. The Southland Conference Tournament is April 14-16 at Lake Charles, La., with an automatic berth to the NCAA Regional Tournament at stake.
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