There isn’t much Mike Watney hasn’t accomplished in his 30 years as coach of the Fresno State men’s golf team.
Watney has led his team to 13 conference championships. He’s coached 29 All-Americans. He’s tutored PGA Tour players, ranging from brothers Kevin and David Sutherland to his nephew, Nick. He was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame in 2007.
His team hasn’t won a national championship, though.
A couple weeks ago, he saw a team that could.
After Watney watched UC Davis dominate his Bulldogs and the rest of the 20-team Cowboy Classic field in Scottsdale, Ariz. to the tune of a 16-shot win, he delivered a short but loaded compliment to Aggies coach Cy Williams.
“He told me flat out that we’re good enough to win it all,” Williams said. “He saw Cal and Pepperdine – they’ve both won it in the past 10 years. He said we’re a better team than either of them were when they won it.“
There’s a legitimate case to be made for UC Davis. It’s come up with eight top-five finishes in 10 tournaments, netting two team wins and five individual victories in the process.
“We’re greedy,” Williams said. “We’ve already accomplished a ton. “We’re going to go as far as we can. There aren’t any limits. We’re just going to stay greedy.“
Williams, though, doesn’t want to talk about the NCAA Championships in too much detail. Not yet, at least.
The 15th-year UC Davis coach has said time and time again that the Aggies only have one big tournament left on their schedule: their next one.
“We don’t look at it like we have three tournaments left,” Williams said. “Our next one is always the biggest one of the year.“
UC Davis starts its biggest tournament of the year – for the 11th time this season – today in San Luis Obispo, Calif. in the form of the Big West Conference Championships.
The Aggies enter the tournament as heavy favorites. They’ve been ranked among the nation’s best for the duration of their season. No other Big West team is in the top 50.
Don’t think that means the Aggies are easing into the Championships. They’re focused. They have redemption on their minds. They were nine holes from winning the Big West title last season before letting things slip away.
“We all have a bit of a bitter taste left in our mouths from last year,” Williams said. “We’re looking forward to getting a little redemption.… We never really compete against other people. We compete against ourselves, focusing on playing the golf course as best we can.“
Competing against itself provides some of the best competition UC Davis could hope to find.
The Aggies have three of the four best players in the Big West Conference. Sophomore Austin Graham and seniors Nate Pistacchio and Ramie Sprinkling are all legitimate first-team All-Big West – even Player of the Year – candidates, stacking the top of the UC Davis lineup so strong it’s almost unfair.
“Having those three makes you a good coach, that’s what it does,” Williams joked. “Seriously, it’s a ton of fun. From a competitive standpoint, to watch those three guys get ready – nobody works harder than them.
“It just reflects the strength of the team. We pretty much know we’re going to get a great performance somewhere. That’s something we’ve never had the luxury of before.“
The Aggies don’t shy away from expressing how good they think they are. If you had their talent, you wouldn’t, either.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t take any other team in the Big West over ours,” Williams said. “If I could pick any team to coach on Monday and Tuesday at conference, it’d be UC Davis hands down.“
UC Davis will be off to Daly City, Calif. for the West Regional (May 14 to 16) once the Big West Tournament comes to a close.
After that, it could have its chance to live up to Watney’s compliment at the NCAA Championships in Toledo, Ohio (May 26 to 30).
“They’re just really, really good,” Williams said. “I don’t know what else to say.“
The Aggies will say the rest on the golf course.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN thinks Williams‘ job would be a lot harder if he had to coach him (i.e. a former baseball player who tries to hit a golf ball like it’s a baseball) instead of Graham, Pistacchio, Sprinkling and Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.