By Steven Bartolotta, September 23, 2009, 8:47 p.m.
Preseason polls and rankings are all the rage in college football and basketball, but in men's golf the first edition rankings don't come out until two weeks into the season. 231 teams were ranked by Golfweek and the North Texas men's golf team checks in at 106.
Okay, nothing to get too excited about until you see that it's the highest the Mean Green has been ranked since the 2003-04 season. And if you look even deeper you see that North Texas is the second ranked team in the Sun Belt Conference.
So why isn't Coach Brad Stracke happy? Simple, that's not good enough. Not even close to what he wants to be and where he thinks his program will be.
Seventh place finishes aren't anything to get excited about, which is what the Mean Green did at its most recent tournament. There were some nice performances turned in by freshman Carlos Ortiz, Rodolfo Cazaubon, and sophomore Luis Lemus. Wasn't good enough.
When I was talking to Stracke before the tournament last week, I walked right into a scolding. I asked if this field was as deep as the opening tournament and he said no. So of course I say, great that means a better finish right? Whoops. Stracke looked at me as if I'd pulled a Judge Smails and improved my lie when nobody was looking. Big mistake.
He quickly corrected me by saying the competition was going to be weaker and he expected his team to be better.
Stracke wants rapid improvement and the results of 13th and 7th to start the season doesn't turn your head unless you see where North Texas is going. The lineup in the fall is going to be juggled constantly because Stracke wants fierce competition for those five spots each tournament. Ortiz looks like a star in the making as does his fellow countryman Rodolfo Cazaubon.
The shocker for me was the performance by Lemus. This is a guy who radically altered his swing before the start of last season and sat out the year. Insert new coach and his swing is altered again before the start of the year. And all he does is post the low score for North Texas playing as an individual in his first collegiate tournament in over 18 months. The difference with Lemus and the entire team is confidence.
They are exuding it and it starts at the top. Stracke wasn't happy with 13th place or 7th place. He knows they can do better. The fall season is really a chance for golf coaches to see what they have to work with and a nice tune-up for the spring. Stracke is doing just that, trying to feel out his team and what lineup he feels most comfortable with.
The key to collegiate golf isn't to have a strong No. 1 guy; it's to have a strong No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4. You must have depth or you're sunk and North Texas appears to finally have it.
The 106 ranking in the land is not a time to celebrate, and I know the second I point that out to Stracke he will remind me of just that. But the men's golf team at North Texas appears to be heading in the right direction, and that is something to be happy about.