Weighed down by a poor second round, the Stanford men’s golf team stumbled to a 19th-place finish at the NCAA Championships at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. After three rounds of stroke play and three more rounds of match play, Texas won the national championship, narrowly defeating Alabama.
“We obviously had higher expectations,” said head coach Conrad Ray. “The guys fought hard. We had two really solid rounds, and then the middle round kind of shot us out of the water. In a competitive field [with] as many good teams as there are, you can’t afford to have that bad round.”
Although freshman Patrick Rodgers, a Ben Hogan Award finalist and the nation’s fourth-ranked college golfer, shot rounds of 69-72-73 to finish in a tie for ninth at one-over par, the rest of the Cardinal struggled on the difficult Riviera course. Junior Andrew Yun was the Cardinal’s second-lowest scorer, finishing at +10 to tie for 69th.
“It’s a tough golf course. I think we had a couple of guys that were struggling to find some confidence out there. It was difficult. There just weren’t too many places where you could really miss,” Rodgers said. “We knew all year that we had a good enough team to win the national championship. It’s just a matter of putting it all together at the right time, and obviously we don’t have any tournaments left to do that, so it’s disappointing.”
Ray said the breeze and tough pin locations made the course especially difficult during the second round of play. No Cardinal players broke par that day.
“We strung too many bad holes together,” Ray said. “I think our guys got off to maybe a little bit of a slower start than they wanted, and then sometimes if you’re trying to make birdies, you can make bogies in a hurry, especially at a course like Riviera. I think we probably pressed a little bit too much. It was just one of those days.”
Yun said the team’s poor performance could not be attributed to a lack of effort.
“I definitely think that everyone was working really hard. We didn’t have any excuses for playing badly — we just didn’t have our best stuff,” he said.
Despite the team’s disappointment, Ray said there are a lot of positives to take from the season.
“Golf is very competitive and unpredictable,” he said. “For our team, being fairly young really . . . to be in the top 10 in the national ranking most of the season and to have won a big tournament in Chicago [The Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational] in the fall and be competitive in a number of others, I think there’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to build on.”
In a welcome bit of good news, sophomore Cameron Wilson qualified for the U.S. Open, which starts next Thursday at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Rodgers and senior captain David Chung also participated in sectional qualifying, but only Wilson made the cut.
“If we get through our finals, we’re definitely going [to the U.S. Open to support Wilson],” Rodgers said. “We’re all really happy for him, and I’m going to try to go up there at least one or two days to watch some practice rounds and just see how he’s doing and root him on . . . we’re all excited for him.”
Although the Cardinal won only one tournament as a team on the year, Yun won the Pac-12 Championships, and Rodgers, recently named a PING First Team All-American, won two tournaments in his first year of college golf.
Senior captain Chung is departing, but Stanford has signed two new recruits for next year: 2010 Washington State Golf Association Junior Boys Player of the Year Dominick Franks and David Boote, member of the Welsh National Men’s Amateur Squad and winner of the 2011 Welsh Boys Golf Championship.
Yun and Steven Kearney, who shot rounds of 74-77-73 to finish in a tie for 77th at Riviera, are the team’s rising seniors, while Andre DeDecker will be a redshirt junior.
“Losing David [is] obviously going to be a big loss and tough shoes to fill,” Rodgers said. “I know he struggled this year, but he’s a great player and he played great for Stanford for four years, so he should be really proud of what he’s done. We’re all really thankful to have him here at Stanford.”
Chung compiled an impressive list of honors in his four years on the team. He played in the 2011 Masters and U.S. Open and helped the U.S. team defeat Europe in the 2010 Palmer Cup. He won the 2010 Western Amateur and the 2010 Porter Cup, and in his sophomore year, he was named a Ben Hogan Award semifinalist and a PING Third Team All-American. He was also named to the All-Pac-10 first team that year.
Over the summer, players will compete regularly to stay sharp. Rodgers and Yun will travel to Northern Ireland to play for the United States in the Palmer Cup, which starts June 28 and pits top American college golfers against their European counterparts. Last year, Yun went 4-0 in Palmer Cup match play to lead the United States to its second straight victory.
Rodgers said the team is highly motivated to perform better next year.
“Here at Stanford, the goal never changes — it’s to win a national championship — and every year you don’t [win], you’re going to end the year disappointed,” he said. “We’re going to work hard and hopefully get back with a chance to win next year.”