The Rice Owls golf team opens the 2012-2013 season on Sept. 10-11 at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Rice is part of a 15-team field slated to play 36 holes on Monday and a final 18 holes of golf on Tuesday at the par-71, 6,882-yard Hattiesburg Country Club. The Owls opened last season at the same tournament hosted by Conference USA rival Southern Miss. A year ago the Blue & Gray finished 13th overall, with one individual placing in the tournament's Top 25.
Taking a page from the PGA Tour, the Rice team recently went through the "Owl Golf Qualifying School" that culminated with the six players making the season-opening travel squad. Five players count towards the team score and one competes as an individual. Rice head coach Justin Emil, now in his second season at the helm of the Owls golf program, said the team has passed the first test of qualifying. Now there is another 54-hole test ahead at the same Hattiesburg Country Club where coach Emil carded a host of rounds during his own collegiate playing career at Southern Miss.
"It's exciting to get the guys through their first round of qualifying and to prepare them for our opening event," coach Emil said. "Hattiesburg Country Club fits our eye, and should be a great way for us to start our fall season."
Rice returning lettermen Jeff Wibawa, Brock Wilson and Joe Beck III all played in the Sam Hall last year and made the Owls' five-player team for the season-opener. Wibawa is the team's leading returner who maintained a 73.3 scoring average through 33 rounds last season. A year ago the junior from Encino, Calif., finished with a one-over par 214 at the Sam Hall to tie for 23rd on the individual leaderboard. Wilson is now the team's lone senior. The veteran from Beaumont played in every tournament last season and he and Beck III, both had the distinction of sharing the Owls' lowest round score (72) at last season's C-USA Championship Tournament. Beck III is now a sophomore who a year ago worked his way into the regular Rice lineup as a true freshman.
The Owls have a new look for the remaining spots with junior-transfer Landon Michelson and freshman James Lee in the team-lineup, as well as freshman Trey Johnson who competes at the Sam Hall as an individual. Johnson and Lee were prep stars back in their home states of Oregon and New Mexico, respectively. The young duo passed qualifying to compete in their first collegiate tournament. Keep an eye on Michelson, a former Division III standout who joined Rice from Birmingham Southern University. A year ago the Miami, Fla., native finished in a tie for second in the individual standings at the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and earned first-team league honors.
Coach Emil has the Rice golf program on the right track. He and the team are anxious to tee-off on the new season.
"The Owls are eager to compete and to get this thing rolling," the head coach said. "This week we need to keep our focus centered around each shot individually. It's a very long season so we don't need to get ahead of ourselves."
The tournament is the Owls' first of two competitions during the month of September. After the Sam Hall Intercollegiate Rice will play at the Mason Randolph Championship in Franklin, Tenn., on Sept. 21-23.
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