Sept. 29, 2012
When the Rice golfers take to the links for the Jim Rivers Intercollegiate Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 1-2) not only are the Owls attempting take home the tournament title, the team also plans to make a fashion statement for a cause that's close to their heart.
Golf is about taking as few shots as possible. One shot the Owl golfers want to take this time, however, is on behalf of some brave patients suffering from osteosarcoma - pediatric bone cancer. One of the patients on the golf team's mind is one of the own teammates, James Ragan.
In an attempt to draw awareness osteosarcoma the Owl golfers will compete this week wearing belt buckles specially designed by Ragan, who remains in a long on-going fight against that disease. Ragan was first diagnosed with pediatric bone cancer in 2006 as a 13-year old. The Corpus Christi, Tex., native underwent chemotherapy and a myriad of surgeries in his youth to fight that foe - which he continues to do so.
Last season Ragan recovered enough to enroll for his freshman year at Rice and make the Owl golf team as walk-on. He made his collegiate debut at this same fall tournament (hosted by Louisiana Tech University at the 7100-yard Squire Creek Country Club), and fired a sensational one-over par 73. As one of the most determined Division I student-athletes, Ragan went on to finish fourth on the team in scoring average while playing in three college events.
This year, however, Ragan's familiar foe has caused him to withdraw from school. Though not currently enrolled in the University, Ragan remains on the golf team's roster and he is in constant contact with his Owl teammates.
It was Ragan and his cousin, Ely, who came up with the belt buckle design to promote osteosarcoma-awareness. The design features the magnified image of osteosarcoma cells (in the background). The middle figure is a tree trunk to represent the strength of life overcoming cancer. The final element is the inscription "Triumph," to symbolize the strength and hopes for the future of all the children with bone cancer. The inscription serves as a direct connection to the Triumph Over Kids Cancer Foundation, which Ragan started.
The Owl golfers are making a fashion statement at this week's Jim Rivers Intercollegiate. There is still the matter of challenging for the tournament title, which the team is focused on accomplishing.
"The team is ready to get back into competition after one of our best competitive rounds on a tough setup at the Mason Rudolph, and a great week of practice here in Houston," said Rice head coach Justin Emil. "Squire Creek is a fantastic course and the guys always love this event. We have seen this course enough to know what to expect and as long as we can minimize our mistakes and take care of what we can control the results this week should continue to trend in the right direction."
Sophomore Joe Beck III was red-hot to close out Owls' previous tournament last weekend in Franklin, Tenn. Not only did the Austin, Tex., native card consecutive 70s over the final two rounds, he played the final 33 holes of the event at four-under par.
True freshman James Lee advanced through the team's rugged "Owl-qualifiers" to play in his third-straight Division I event. So far the standout from Albuquerque, N.M., has maintained a 72.2 scoring average for five of his six collegiate rounds.
Junior newcomer Landon Michelson has also played in both of the team's events this season after transferring to Rice from Birmingham Southern College. The Miami, Fla., native has maintained a 75.7 scoring average this season with the Blue & Gray.
A year ago Jeff Wibawa posted the Owls' best 54-hole score on this same course with a three-over par 219. He tied for 14th overall in the individual standings and has never placed outside the Top 25 of this tournament.
The Owl duo of senior Brandon Burke and junior James Heister are making the Rice travel roster for the first time this season. Coach Emil is confident in his team depth and trusts for a player who survives the qualifiers to stay hot in the collegiate tournament.
"Brandon is a local golf standout who will walk on this season prior to graduation in May," coach Emil said. "He has been solid in practice so I am ready to get him into some competition. This group is getting so much better. They just have to believe in themselves and get out of their own way."