Men's golf: Young UNT team begins first C-USA tourney

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Brad Stracke faced a pretty large rebuiding job at North Texas this season.

One look at what has transpired on the Tour is evidence enough of just how big the task was.

Carlos Ortiz was one of UNT’s top golfers the last few seasons. Now he’s arguably the best player on the Tour, one step below the PGA Tour.

Ortiz has won twice in his rookie season on the Tour and is in the hunt again this week at the WNB Golf Classic in Midland. Win that tournament and Ortiz will have a PGA Tour card in hand.

It’s not often a player of that caliber comes through any program, making them tough to replace. UNT had to replace not only Ortiz but three others who were in its top five, including an All-American in Rodolfo Cazaubon.

UNT has recovered nicely considering the circumstances heading into its first Conference USA tournament, beginning today at Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond, Okla. UNT is ranked No. 71 by Golfweek entering the three-day, 54-hole event on the par 70, 6,861-yard course.

UNT will tee off on the No. 1 hole at 8:45 a.m. today.

UAB is No. 16 and enters the 14-team event favored to win and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA regionals.

“We are really young, which makes it tough to know what to expect,” Stracke said. “They could excel or end up feeling the pressure. Time will tell how they do. I feel good about this team. We have a lot of good, talented and smart players. I am looking forward to working with these guys for years to come.”

UNT doesn’t have a senior on a roster that includes three juniors, a sophomore and six freshmen.

Jason Roets, a junior and one of UNT’s elder statesmen, and sophomore Gonzalo Rubio have been among the Mean Green’s most consistent players.

What has been encouraging for UNT has been the development of the players who are still in the early stages of their college careers.

“It has definitely been a rebuilding year,” Roets said. “We have a lot of young players. They have learned a lot as the year has gone along.”

Freshmen Cory Churchman and Nick Rodriguez were among UNT’s top finishers at the Aggie Invitational, UNT’s final tuneup for the conference tournament.

Those players decided to sign with UNT partly because of the success the Mean Green enjoyed when Ortiz and Cazaubon posted breakout seasons a year ago. Cazaubon received All-America honorable mention from Golfweek and joined Ortiz in helping UNT finish 12th at the NCAA regional played in Pullman, Wash.

The way Ortiz has continued to garner attention on the Tour has only added to UNT’s momentum.

“The way Carlos is playing has really helped in recruiting,” Stracke said. “The juniors pay attention to the and PGA tours. We are definitely going in the right direction and have come a long way in the last five years. Recruiting is going in the right direction and is getting better and better.”

UNT will look to build on that momentum this week in the C-USA tournament.

“I feel really good about where we are even though we are so young,” Roets said. “We feel like we can win. We have players with the ability to do it.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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