Bears stay out of woods

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The Golden Bears golf team isn't exactly living up to Jack Nicklaus's nickname, but then again the program is still in the cub stage.

And there's no quit in them.

After getting off to a terrible start at the Canadian University/College golf championships in Duncan, B.C., on Tuesday, the U of A redeemed itself yesterday.

The Bears were 19th in a field of 20 after Day One, shooting 322 (top four scores from the five-man team count), but came back with a solid 310 yesterday.

"Quite a bit better today," said team manager Robin Stewart. "The guys were a lot more consistent, a lot more relaxed."

Alberta improved to a 16th-place tie (632) - powerhouse Victoria leads the way at 571 - but they still have a long way to go if they hope to make the cut. The top-10 teams advance to today's final round.

"If we make a move and some of the other teams back up we have a chance," said Stewart. "But the way it's looking right now we're probably going to be on the outside looking in."

Not that they had very high expectations going in. In just its second year of existence, the U of A golf team is still an unofficial entity struggling for support.

"We have no funding from the athletic department at all," said Stewart, adding the goal is to one day become a full-fledged athletic program. "Ideally we'd like to be treated no differently than Don Horwood's basketball team."

But right now they're paying their own way to tournaments, practising out at RedTail Landing with volunteer coach Robert Ratcliff and getting in as many holes as they can two evenings a week at a few private courses.

"They let us out after the members are finished, so at about 6 p.m. we can go out and play till it's dark."

Once they're members of an established university athletic conference they'll have a better shot at funding, but it's hard to join a conference with nothing but lint in your pockets.

"It's kind of a chicken and egg thing," said Stewart. "But we're working on it. One of the things were looking at is a Canada West conference, but right now the B.C. schools play in the NAIA (with U.S. programs). We have to figure out where we want to play and how we want to do it."

The majority of Alberta's top golfing prospects attend college in the States, on NCAA scholarships, but Stewart would like to see the next tier stay in Alberta rather than migrate to funded programs in BC.

"If you look at UVic and UBC, I'd say 80 % of their players are from Alberta.

"They're stealing all our good players right now."

SWENSON GOES LOW: Jil Swenson of Edmonton, who finished second at last year's Canadian Ladies championship, also rebounded after a tough start at the British ladies Amateur in Kent, England.

Swenson found herself five spots out of last place with an opening-round 90 on Tuesday, but rebounded with a 78 yesterday.

It wasn't enough to make the cut (top 64 move on to match play), but it's more indicative of her game. Two rounds of 78 would have put her in the top 50 out of 300 and advanced her to the match play rounds.

MAKING THE CUT: Mike Mezei, who lost in a playoff to Stuart Henley in the 2003 Alberta Open and was among the leaders on the last day of the 2003 Telus Open, is closing in on his Canadian Tour card.

The Lethbridge amateur opened with a 68 in the first round of Q school and sits in a five-way tie for fourth place in Langley, B.C. The top seven get full exemptions, eight through 14 get partially exempt status.

HAPPY COUPLES: The guys at Blackhawk Golf Course had the pom poms out during the final round of the Memorial.

With Fred Couples highlighting their Aug. 29 exhibition, nobody wanted to see him win more than the people at the Blackhawk layout.

"I was hoping like heck," said GMAl Prokop. "It would have been great. It still shows the guy is competitive and still has the charisma of the old Freddie Couples."

About 85% of the tickets for the Couples, Craig Stadler, Stephen Ames and Peter Jacobson match sold in the first few days, but there are still a few hundred left. Tickets are available at 482-8232.


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