Jan. 7, 2009
By Mike Robles
UC Davis Assistant A.D., Media Relations
Originally Published Oct. 25, 2008 in Aggie Gameday
The numbers - 86 and 63 - make more sense as the high-low temperatures on a typical fall day in Davis than they do as back-to-back rounds of golf.
But there they were, seemingly polar-opposite figures, staring up from Austin Graham's first-day scorecard on Oct. 13 at The Prestige at PGA WEST, co-hosted by UC Davis and Stanford.
Graham, a sophomore standout on the UC Davis men's golf team from San Clemente, was confident entering the high-powered tournament that featured 10 of the top 50 ranked teams in the country.
He certainly had been playing well, starting the year with his first collegiate win at the Kansas Invitational in September, a season-opening event the Aggies also won. And despite winds nearing 25 mph that buffeted the course during the first round two weeks ago, Graham - the Big West Golfer of the Month for September - remained optimistic; confidence boosted by playing two tournaments in wind-swept Ireland over the summer while also visiting family.
"I was looking forward to (the wind) because generally it takes most of the players out of the field and I knew I was prepared for the wind because I went over there and played," said Graham.
The shots didn't fall the way he had hoped though - "There were a few shots where (the ball) got up in the air, the wind kicked it into the hazard and I triple-bogeyed just like that." - and over a stretch of six holes he gave away nine shots to par. Graham finished with a 14-over score, tying for 80th in the standings. Graham said he can't remember the last time he shot an 86.
"He was probably pretty frustrated that he didn't help the team more in the first round," said coach Cy Williams afterwards. "He was playing very well coming into the tournament but it just got out of hand in the first round."
Graham, however, plays every round one shot a time, trying to not let good or bad results affect his next swing. It was that approach that stopped his descent on the leaderboard and sent him rocketing toward the top.
When playing a 36-hole day, players normally don't stop between rounds, usually because shotgun starts have their first and last holes in the middle of the course. That makes what happened next all the more noteworthy considering he was four shots over par the last two holes of his opening round.
Starting with a birdie on the par-5, 617-yard eighth hole - his first of an afternoon round with calmer winds - Graham began a run that would result in nine birdies and no bogeys on his way to a 63.
He had four birdies over his first seven holes, including three straight, and finished with four on his final six.
Graham, whose previous Aggie best was a 66 last season, broke school records for both total score (by a stroke) and for score relative to par (by two).
Graham gives credit to his coaches and parents for helping him get back on track.
"After the first round was over my parents came and said, `You know what, forget about it and just go out and play a good round in the second round and help the team improve."
Graham's tremendous play did just that as UC Davis, entering the tournament ranked 40th by Golfweek, moved into second after the first day behind eventual winner TCU. Graham, meanwhile, vaulted himself into a tie for 14th.
His strong play carried over to the final day as well as he followed that memorable second round with six more birdies and a 4-under 68 on the world-class Greg Norman Course.
But while Graham's performance was a big storyline for the major tournament - he eventually finished in a tie for fifth - it was just one of three for the Aggies who have been just as impressive in the fall and are now ranked a program-best 13th by Golfstat.
While Graham was putting together a scorecard for the ages, teammate Nate Pistacchio shot a first-round 68 to assume first place, and then added back-to-back sub-par rounds to tie for medalist honors in the 84-player event.
Pistacchio joined Graham and senior Ramie Sprinkling - medalist at the Michigan Wolverine Intercollegiate - as victors over the Aggies' first five tournaments this year, an amazing run during just the program's second at the NCAA Division I level. The team has been just as impressive, finishing second three times in addition to its win at Kansas, including at The Prestige.
Oh, and as proof of the team's depth this year, consider that Graham's Tiger-like 63 broke the school record of 64 set less than a week earlier by Brent Booth at the Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic at Notre Dame.
Freshman Tyler Raber, from Davis High School, has also chipped in, highlighting his year so far with a 69 at Michigan.
"The sky is the limit," Graham said. "We've proven we can win... (Our start) shows we can compete with anyone."
UC Davis men's golf launches its spring season Feb. 4 at Hawaii-Hilo's Waikoloa Intercollegiate.