While Tiger Woods got plenty of attention at the Masters, other players in Augusta—Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus and Davis Love III, for instance—got a little too. But when the freshman phenom tees it up in college events for Stanford, every other player on every team, the Cardinal included, could stay home, and nobody but the coaches and players would notice. Such was the case last week at Arizona State's Thunderbird Collegiate Invitational in Tempe, where 18 teams squared off in the last gathering of top talent until the NCAA championships in early June at Ohio State.
Last week's activities began with a press conference that focused on the tournament—for about 10 seconds. "We've got 18 fabulous teams and some of the very best collegiate golfers in the country," said Ray Artigue, a tournament volunteer who presided over the conference, which was attended by five TV stations and two dozen sportswriters. "Now I'd like to turn the program over to Wally Goodwin, Stanford's coach, who will introduce his fine young player." With that, Goodwin introduced Woods, who answered questions for a quarter of an hour.
A lot of work at the Thunderbird went toward accommodating the Tiger Woods Show. "We put up gallery ropes for the first time in the event's 23 years," ASU coach Randy Lein said. "[Our phones] have been flooded all week with calls about Tiger. And to handle the crowds [which averaged 500 per day], we have marshals just for Tiger's group."
The scene is the same at every college event in which Woods competes. After all, the 19-year-old is one of the more celebrated freshmen in the history of college sports. "What Tiger's doing for us is like what Arnold Palmer did for the PGA Tour back in the "60s," says Auburn coach Mike Griffin. "Yeah, he usually takes the spotlight away from everybody else, but look at the attention he's brought to our game. How can we complain?"
But Woods is not the only collegiate talent worth watching. Far from it, in fact. He is third-ranked nationally, behind Georgia Tech's Stewart Cink and Oklahoma State's Alan Bratton, and has won only two of the 10 college events he has played in. Last week he finished 12th, with a four-over-par 220 in cool, blustery conditions on ASU's 7,057-yard Karsten Golf Course. Todd Demsey, a senior at ASU and the 1993 NCAA champion, shot 213 to win medalist honors.
Among those overshadowed by Woods is the Oklahoma State team, which could be the best in the history of college golf. No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State has three of the country's top five players, led by Bratton, a senior and 1994 college co-player of the year, who this season has one tie for first, five other top-five finishes and a 71.58 scoring average. Senior Chris Tidland, a 1993 All-America, is ranked fourth, and junior Trip Kuehne, who lost to Woods in last year's U.S. Amateur final, is ranked fifth. The other members of OSU's starting five are junior Kris Cox, a 1994 All-America who lost to Kuehne in the semifinals at the '94 Amateur, and sophomore Leif Westerberg, an honorable-mention All-America in 1994.
The Cowboys are on a mission this season. Last year they entered the NCAAs as the favorite but finished fifth, 11 strokes behind winning Stanford. Considering Woods was not even on that Cardinal squad, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them. But they seem up to the task. Before last week the Cowboys and the Cardinal had met six times this season. Because OSU won four of those tournaments and Stanford two, the Cowboys overtook the Cardinal as the No. 1 team early this month. In Tempe, OSU finished third with a score of 877, nine strokes ahead of sixth-place Stanford but 10 behind first-place Arkansas. Arizona State finished second at 871.
Oklahoma State is seven for 12 in its current campaign. Most schools would be happy with seven wins every decade or two, but for Mike Holder and OSU, brilliance is par for the course. Holder, who has been at the OSU helm for 22 years, has coached a slew of PGA Tour players, including Bob Tway, the winner of last week's MCI Heritage Classic, David Edwards, Doug Tewell and Scott Verplank. In 21 NCAA championships his teams have six wins and eight runner-up finishes and have been out of the top five only once—in 1993, when the Cowboys wound up 12th. Holder has 19 Big Eight titles, and his teams have won nearly half the tournaments they've entered (142 of 307).
Holder, who grew up in Odessa, Texas, had a decent golf career at Oklahoma State but admits that as a player he was too hard on himself. "I beat myself up mentally," he says. Upon receiving his MBA from OSU in 1973, he took a job as the school's golf coach.
It's a good thing Holder hasn't lost much since then, because things can get ugly when he does. Until a few years ago he was a ticking time bomb at every tournament. He would kick the walls, throw his hat and chew out the players. In 1990 Golf Digest called him "the most feared man in college golf." "In the third round at the NCAAs 15 years ago," his wife, Robbie, recalls, "the team blew a big lead in the last three holes. Mike came back to the hotel in a rage, ranting and raving. Then he started yelling at me, like I had anything to do with it. But that was routine back then."