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Ducky day

Wet, muddy and dirty, University of Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich scrambled to a television at the Casanova Center in Eugene last week.

He and several of his staff had just participated in development training with a Special Forces unit (it was intense, and apparently pretty messy) as the UO men's golf team was in hot pursuit of an NCAA title a few minutes away at Eugene Country Club.

A dramatic playoff birdie putt on the 21st hole by Sulman Raza gave the host Ducks a 3-2 triumph over Texas in the match-play final on June 1, the program's first team championship.

"We just sat there, white-knuckling it the whole time," Helfrich said.

It's been 1½ weeks, but UO head men's golf coach Casey Martin is still tingling over the historic accomplishment. He, Helfrich and dozens of other Oregon athletic department staff members and athletes were at Rogue Valley Country Club on Friday for the 31st Fitz Brewer Duffin' Fore the Ducks golf tournament, an Oregon Club of Southern Oregon fundraiser. More than 170 people participated, rubbing elbows with the stars.

"Gosh, yeah, it's been an emotional high and I haven't slept much," Martin said as he relaxed at a table with friends near the course. "It's hard to believe, quite frankly. It was a dream of mine when I took over the program. We have been close in certain degrees, but to actually win it, it's overwhelming."

Martin helped line up Raza's winning putt, and then he looked on anxiously with the rest of the crowd.

"I wasn't thinking much," said Martin, the former PGA Tour pro who graduated from South Eugene High and won a national title as a player at Stanford. "I was praying a ton. ... It was good nerves to be in that situation and you're just trying to get the guys to calm down, and that's the challenge in those situations, and they did an amazing job."

Helfrich called the Ducks' performance the stuff of movies.

"Tears in your eyes," said Helfrich, who was born in Medford, grew up in Coos Bay and played football at Southern Oregon University. "It was so cool in so many ways. First and foremost for the program and the university, but for who Casey is."

The joke, UO women's head golf coach Ria Scott said, is that her Ducks set the tone for the men's success. Kidding aside, her squad had a seriously good finish, ultimately falling to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals of match play during the NCAA Women's Championships at Eugene Country Club on May 24. The Ducks took ninth at the Pac-12 Preview in the fall, but rebounded with the final-eight effort.

"That was really nice for the Ducks to have such a nice showing on our home turf," Scott said in between shots on the driving range at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Hosting the championships was a big win for the entire region, Scott added.

"It was really good exposure being on the Golf Channel," she said. "I think to a lot of the country, golf in the Northwest is such a mystery, but that kind of shed some light on the quality of golf courses and the quality of players we can attract here."

Sports at Oregon just keep getting better, Medford resident Adam Baker said. The 2002 UO graduate was playing in his fourth Duffin' Fore the Ducks scramble.

"It's fantastic," said Baker, who once shared a marketing class with Joey Harrington. "Watching the success of the track program and softball — I have two daughters and we followed them all season long — it's just really cool."

As for football, Helfrich says he and his staff are staying plenty busy.

"We're kind of hot and heavy with the satellite camp world right now, with all the craziness that has evolved out of that," he says. "Basically all through June almost every single day part of our staff is (in Oregon), in Hawaii, in Utah and, I believe, in Atlanta. We're kind of spread out. As for our team proper, they're just finishing finals and are done with school (today). Those guys will get a two-week break before summer workouts and summer school."

As smoothly as his gridiron operations are going, Helfrich said his golf game needs help.

"My golf is definitely not the strength of my existence right now," he joked. "Hopefully I have great partners."

Martin says his own golf is light and purely recreational now, as his right leg "has not been great." He lives with a painful vascular disease known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome.

Martin was taking it easy on Friday, with plenty of congratulations coming his way. As far as he's concerned, talking about last week's magic will never get old.

"That part is fun, I'm not gonna lie," Martin said. "To see the joy on my kids' faces when they won, it's all worth it."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt

Oregon head men's golf coach Casey Martin waits for the start of the tournament Friday at the Duffin' Fore the Ducks event at Rogue Valley Country Club. Martin led the Ducks to the national championship last week. MAIL TRIBUNE / DENISE BARATTA
Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich warms up on the driving range at RVCC Friday. MAIL TRIBUNE / DENISE BARATTA