Returning from a two-week break, the Stanford men’s golf team struggled to escape the pack at the highly competitive Las Vegas Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, finishing fifth in a field of 15 teams. Senior captain David Chung tied for 15th, shooting an aggregate score of 5-over-par, and freshman Patrick Rodgers tied for 23rd at 6-over.
The Cardinal finished the tournament Sunday with a team score of 24-over, 16 shots behind tournament winner UNLV. Scores ballooned across the board on the final day of play as players fought high winds, firm greens and difficult pin positions. Cal, ranked fifth in the nation and the tournament leader through two rounds, shot 12-over on Monday to squander a six-shot lead, and the Cardinal shot 17-over after posting rounds of 4-over and 3-over on Friday and Saturday.
Four of the nation’s top five teams participated in the tournament, including top-ranked Texas, which finished sixth, fourth-ranked UCLA, which finished third, and Cal. Golfweek ranked the Las Vegas field the strongest of any college tournament held so far this season.
“The course played very difficult and we didn’t perform to our capability,” said junior Steven Kearney, who shot 13-over for the tournament and tied for 48th. “It was a very strong field and we did beat No. 1-ranked Texas, so there are some positives to take from the trip.”
Classmate Andrew Yun concurred, saying that the team did not perform as well as it could have, and the highly competitive tournament foreshadowed the level of competition Stanford will face in the NCAA tournament.
“Overall, it was a very tough course,” he said. “It’s probably about as similar as you can get to the NCAA Championship, so it was a good preview with a good field and a good course like that… We know exactly what we need to do to improve our game and take it to the next level.”
The March 11 Golfweek rankings, released shortly after the conclusion of the tournament, reflect Stanford’s mediocre performance in recent weeks. Entering the Feb. 12 San Diego Intercollegiate, Stanford was ranked fifth in the nation, thanks in part to Stanford’s third-place finish at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii in early February, but in the current rankings, the Cardinal has dropped to 12th in the nation. Five Pac-12 teams — UCLA, USC, Cal, Oregon and Washington — are ranked in the top 10.
Yun believes Stanford is much better than its ranking suggests.
“We saw how good we could be in our first tournament of the year, even though it was a while ago back in September, before school started, we did win that tournament by 16 shots, and I think that’s where our potential is,” Yun said. “It’s a little bit more difficult [now] just with everything that’s going on in school, and we just can’t dedicate as much time as we want to practicing, but we’re going to have all of spring break to get ready, and I think most of us are going to have a little lighter load for spring quarter… we’re just waiting to peak at the right time, and I think everybody will be there when the time comes.”
Kearney agreed that Stanford is preparing for a postseason peak.
“I am happy with where we are right now,” Kearney said. “Obviously, I would have liked to have won more tournaments at this point in the season, but we are getting better each tournament. The way I see it, we are on pace to peak at NCAAs and bring home a national title.”
Stanford has only three tournaments remaining before the start of NCAA Regionals in mid-May. Starting March 30, the Cardinal will host the Stanford Intercollegiate at the Stanford Golf Course before traveling to the famous Pasatiempo Course in Santa Cruz to compete in the Western Intercollegiate in mid-April. Finally, the team will take on a highly competitive Pac-12 field in late April at the Pac-12 Championships.
In a stroke of luck for the Cardinal, the NCAA Regional will be held at the Stanford Golf Course this year. Last year, the Cardinal stumbled at the NCAA Central Regional in Indiana and failed to make the national tournament.
While players are currently scaling back their practice time as they prepare for finals, Yun said most members of the team will stay at school over spring break to prepare for the Stanford tournament.
“Since most of us are staying here for spring break, we’ll have the whole week to get ready for it, so I’m really excited, and I think our team is really excited and pumped too,” he said. “Playing a home tournament, I think we’re going to come with guns firing.”