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June 15, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Shot at big time for Stanford coach Shot at big time for Stanford coach (June 15, 2005)

Conrad Ray will put his golf camp on hold this week in favor of playing in the U.S. Open championships

by Keith Peters

Conrad Ray was expecting to spend this weekend teaching youngsters at the first Stanford Golf Camp of the summer. A phone call last week, however, changed all that.

Instead of teaching in anonymity, Ray will be playing in front of thousands and under the bright lights of national television.

Golf camp at Stanford is on hold for Ray, who'll be in Pinehurst, N.C., playing in his first U.S. Open.

"It's definitely a good thing," Ray said. "This is something I've been working towards all my professional life."

Ray, 30, who just finished up his rookie season as head coach of the Stanford men's golf team, received a phone call on Thursday from the U.S. Golf Association. Darren Clarke had withdrawn from the Open to be with his wife during her cancer treatments. Since Ray was the first alternate, it was time to pack his bags.

Ray played in a 36-hole sectional qualifying event for the Open on June 6 in Tarzana. He shot 32 on the back nine to get into a playoff with rounds of 71-69 and a 140 total. There, he made par on the first hole but three others made birdie to qualify. Since Tarzana was judged the most difficult of the 15 sectional qualifying sites, Ray earned the top alternate spot.

Despite being disappointed that his 12th attempt at qualifying had failed, Ray was rewarded three days later by a spot in the 156-player field.

"It's a neat thing for me," said Ray, who lives in Palo Alto with his wife, Jennifer, and their two dogs.

After graduating from Stanford in 1997, Ray played on the Nationwide Tour and other world tours and achieved 12 top-10 finishes in that span. This, however, is a shot at the big time.

Moreover, it's a chance for Ray to catch up with former Stanford teammate Tiger Woods. The two played together on the 1995 and '96 teams, with Woods winning the NCAA individual title while helping the Cardinal take fourth in '96. Ray's lone appearance in the national tourney was that season.

Ray called Woods upon his arrival Sunday night and Woods set up a practice round for Monday morning. Ray spent the afternoon squeezed between Bob Tway and Ted Purdy on the practice range, getting service from a Nike Golf rep who was helping the Cardinal coach with a new driver and shaft. On Tuesday, Ray planned on playing a practice round with J.J. Henry and Matt Kuchar, two other guys he played against in college.

As for playing with Woods once the tournament begins? Not likely.

Still, Ray is hoping to get Woods more involved in the Stanford golf program and believes Woods is open to the idea - much in the way Cardinal alum Tom Watson was involved with the annual fund-raising invitational named in his honor.

Bottom line, Ray said, is keeping the lines of communication open with Woods. Having Ray playing in an event like the U.S. Open certainly helps bring a little notoriety to the program, as well.

"It will be great to bring some recognition to the program," Ray said. "I'll be carrying the Stanford bag (actually, his caddy will)."

Ray had an agreement with Stanford freshman Rob Grube, whose fifth-place finish helped the Cardinal take 18th overall in its first NCAA tournament since 2001. The two played in the sectional qualifier. The bet was, if one qualified for the Open, the other would caddy for him.

But when Ray got it, Grube had to back out.

"He's back in Chicago," Ray explained. "He's got a busy summer schedule ahead of him and he needs to rest up, re-charge his batteries and have some of mom's home cooking before he heads out on the circuit."

Ray, meanwhile, will spend his remaining hours before Thursday's opening round getting ready for the tournament known as the toughest test in golf - famous for its narrow fairways and slick, hard greens that require a delicate touch.

"I've played some of the courses in the area," Ray said. "But I have not played No. 2. It's a great test of golf. It'll be fun."

No matter what happens, Ray plans to keep playing.

"I've stayed close to the game this year and played with the team," he said.

As for the U.S. Open?

"It costs 100 bucks to try," Ray said. "It takes only three rounds to get in. It's something I'll probably do as long as I can."

Ray's primary goal, however, it to return the Stanford men's program to the heyday of Woods, Notah Begay, Joel Kribel and Casey Martin - when Stanford annually contended for NCAA honors.

This week, only two Stanford products will be busy in Pinehurst - Woods and Ray.

"I've made it to (the U.S. Open) sectionals a few times, but to get to the big dance is pretty cool," said Ray. "This is a week I'll never forget."

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