By Austin Block
In its strongest showing in months, the Stanford men’s golf team finished second to No. 1 Texas at the Western Intercollegiate, held at the famous Pasatiempo course in Santa Cruz. Freshman Patrick Rodgers, the nation’s third-ranked college golfer, won the individual tournament by two strokes, shooting 4-under-par through three rounds to claim his second victory of the 2011-2012 season.
“We were really happy with the result,” said head coach Conrad Ray. “Obviously we go to all these events trying to win, so second is second, but I think that there’s a lot to be proud of and I think that the guys were happy with the effort they put in … We really gave Texas a run for their money at the end, it was down to just a couple of shots with a few holes to play.”
Junior Andrew Yun finished three strokes behind Rodgers to take fourth and sophomore Cameron Wilson tied for seventh at 1-over-par. Heading into the final round, Texas led the Cardinal by eight shots. Buoyed by Rodgers’ third-round 68 and Yun’s 69, the Cardinal cut into the Longhorns’ lead but was unable to fully close the gap, finishing four strokes back.
“Texas is such a good team. They’re the No. 1 team for a reason,” Yun said. “They won seven times this year, and it is disappointing that we didn’t finish first, but we have so many positive things to take out of this … it just gives us confidence knowing that on any given day, we can beat anybody … we’re not that far off from being the No. 1 team in the country.”
“I think we’ve been playing well all spring, but it just kind of came together and our preparation started to pay off,” said senior team captain Wilson Bowen. “It was a really demanding golf course, and I think we play well on harder, championship courses just because the best teams tend to shine in those situations.”
The Cardinal, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation, beat out four highly ranked Pac-12 rivals at Pasatiempo: No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 USC, No. 7 Cal and No. 10 Oregon.
Stanford will soon take on these same teams and the rest of its highly competitive conference at the Pac-12 Championships, which start next Friday at Oregon State’s home course in Corvallis, Ore. The Cardinal has not won the conference championship since 1994.
No members of the team have played the Corvallis course, but players will benefit from the knowledge and experience of assistant coach Philip Rowe, who finished second in the Pac-10 Championships at the course as a Stanford senior in 2002. Rowe also won the U.S. Intercollegiate at Stanford that year.
On April 11, three days before the start of the tournament, freshman Rodgers was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Ben Hogan award, given each year to the nation’s best college golfer.
Rodgers has finished in the top 10 in seven of nine tournaments this year. On Saturday, he opened with a 67 and then shot 71 to drop into second place before his Sunday round of 68 won him the tournament. Rodgers outplayed both of the nation’s top two golfers: No. 1 Jordan Spieth and No. 2 Dylan Fritelli, both from Texas.
“It’s one of the strongest fields,” Bowen said. “He beat [UCLA golfer] Patrick Cantlay down the stretch, and Dylan Fritelli, and a bunch of other players who are up for the player of the year nomination,” Bowen said. “He made a bunch of great putts down the stretch and managed to pull it out, which was good to see.”
Yun said he and Rodgers, who played together all three rounds, fed off each other’s successes and supported each other through tough periods.
“We were giving each other a lot of positive vibes, encouraging each other throughout the whole tournament, and I think that helped both of us play really well,” he said.
Following Pac-12s, Stanford will host the NCAA Regional at the Stanford Golf Course starting May 17. A strong finish there would send the Cardinal to nationals, held at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Stanford last won the NCAA Championships in 2007 and finished one stroke behind champion UCLA in 2008. Last year, however, the Cardinal missed out on nationals entirely after a poor showing at the regional tournament in Indiana.
Yun said the team’s recent strong finishes indicate that the Cardinal is peaking at the right time. He added that other teams have taken notice of Stanford’s recent success.
“Before, I think they would just write us off as a very good school with good players [that] all couldn’t play well at the same time,” he said. “At this time of year we’re having three, four, maybe even five guys playing well, which is going to be crucial — I think they’re definitely taking notice, and I don’t think we’re flying under the radar anymore.”