Missouri men's golfers optimistic entering Big 12 championship

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 9:52 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Heading into this weekend's Big 12 Conference championship, Missouri men's golf coach Mark Leroux said he is confident, despite the Tigers' No. 8 seed.

"Our team is so competitive right now, I feel like any one of our guys can go out and win," Leroux said.

Leroux's optimism stems from the Tigers' victories in their past two tournaments, including their home tournament, the Mizzou Intercollegiate, in which Tigers freshman Ryan Zech won the individual title.

Junior Jace Long and sophomore Emilio Cuartero are usually listed at the top of the leaderboard for the Tigers, but Zech's recent success has motivated them to play even better.

"It's so helpful to have another top guy with us," Cuartero said. "It gives all of us so much confidence that, even if we don't play our best, we have more teammates to support us."

"This is exactly what we need at this point in the season. The biggest thing is to have confidence." Long said. "This is a great opportunity for us to prove ourselves."

Even though the stakes are higher at the Big 12 tournament, hosted this season by Oklahoma at the Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas, Zech said he is taking the same approach that has led to his recent success.

"When we go down there, we are just some good old boys from Missouri, going out there to have a good time," Zech said. "I'm just going to relax and focus on making pars and just let the birdies show up."

The Tigers will have their work cut out for them this weekend. The Big 12 boasts four of the top 35 teams in the country, including No. 1-ranked Texas. But no matter how impressive their competition might seem, Leroux said he can't wait to put his team up against the rest of the conference.

"The Big 12 has historically been a strong golf conference. It's not unusual for the No. 1 team to be from this conference," Leroux said. "It's very exciting for our guys to go out and play against those highly ranked teams. Our back is against the wall, and we are ready to do our best."

The Tigers are scheduled to tee off at 8:45 a.m. on Friday.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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