By Austin Block
After a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships, the Stanford men’s golf team has the chance to redeem itself at the NCAA Regionals, which start today at the Stanford Golf Course.
The Cardinal is seeded second behind Cal in the 13-team tournament. Stanford will be led by Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Patrick Rodgers and in-form junior Andrew Yun, who won the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago and finished fourth at the Western Intercollegiate two weeks prior.
Golfweek lists Yun as the nation’s 12th-ranked collegiate golfer, and Rodgers is ranked third. Rodgers was recently named one of three finalists for the Ben Hogan Award, which is perennially awarded to the nation’s best college golfer. No sophomores and only one freshman, current PGA Tour star Rickie Fowler, have ever won the award.
If Stanford finishes in the top five of the regional tournament, the team will then travel to Los Angeles for the NCAA Championships at Riviera Country Club, which begins May 29. Following three rounds of stroke play in the 30-team tournament, the top eight teams will face off in match play to determine the NCAA champion.
For now, the Cardinal’s focus is on regionals. Fortunately for Stanford, this week’s field is not as strong as some of the other fields the team has faced this season. After No. 7 Cal, the highest-ranked teams the Cardinal will compete against are No. 14 San Diego State, No. 22 Central Florida and No. 23 LSU. Stanford is currently ranked eighth nationally.
Rounding out the lineup for regionals is sophomore Cameron Wilson, who started strong at Pac-12s before being disqualified for a scorekeeping mishap, freshman Patrick Grimes and senior captain David Chung. Players competed in four rounds of qualifying last week to determine which five would play this weekend.
“It was a difficult test for everybody and put the guys under a lot of pressure,” Rodgers said. “I think we have a great team and I really like our chances.”
But Yun said the weaker field and home-course advantage would not lull the team into a false sense of security.
“I don’t think we’re going to have that problem because we’ve only won one tournament,” Yun said. “I think everybody on our team understands that winning is a habit, like our coach always says, and I feel like if you want to get things rolling and go into nationals on a high I think we have to get that win under our belt … I think everyone wants to get that win and I think they’re really motivated to play well.”
Yun and Rodgers both agreed that playing at home puts no extra pressure on the team.
“Since we do have so much support, it’s very easy to have momentum on your side,” Yun said. “When you’re not playing that well, people are there cheering for you and encouraging you to do better, and when you are playing well, everybody is on your side.”
“I don’t see really any extra pressure playing at home, I just view it as we know the golf course better than most,” Rodgers said. “We still have to go out there, though, and hit the shots and get the job done, but I really like our chances.”
The course will play more difficult than usual, as the greens will be firm and fast and the rough has grown long. In light of these factors, team captain Wilson Bowen said players need to make sure they keep the ball in-play off the tee and that they leave themselves with uphill putts.
This tournament will mark the Cardinal’s first playoff appearance since last year’s NCAA Central Regionals, where the team stumbled to a sixth-place finish and narrowly missed out on the national tournament. Yun said last year’s disappointment is not on his mind.
“I feel like our team is a lot closer this year, our team is playing a lot better this year, and even the same guys that we had last year weren’t playing as well as they are this year,” Yun said. “It’s a totally different story, and I think we’re going to have a lot better result this regional.”
The three-day tournament begins at the Stanford Golf Course today.