Despite finishing a distant fourth in the NCAA Western Regional, 17 shots behind tournament winner Cal, the Stanford men’s golf team qualified for next week’s NCAA Championships.
“It was a bit disappointing that we didn’t contend for the title as I thought we would … but we got the job done and we finished fourth, and the top five get to go to nationals,” said junior Andrew Yun, who shot a final round 66 to jump into a tie for 15th individually.
Playing at home, the Cardinal was in contention early, shooting an opening-round team score of three-under-par 277 to trail Cal by one.
Although the team actually shot a better score, 275, on the second day of play, Cal and San Diego State caught fire, shooting a 10-under 270 and a 15-under 265, respectively, to pull far into the lead.
That sizable deficit proved too difficult to make up, and Stanford fell further behind in the final round as Cal and San Diego State continued to tear up the Stanford Golf Course. Cal, ranked No. 6 nationally by Golfweek, finished with a team score of 25-under, and San Diego State, ranked No. 14, finished at 19-under.
Freshman Patrick Rodgers, the nation’s fourth-ranked golfer and a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award, was the Cardinal’s lowest scorer on the weekend, tying for 10th at four-under.
Yun said that the course played far easier than normal.
“I don’t feel like anybody really played that poorly, but I think it just kind of caught us off guard how easy the course was playing,” Yun said. “Scores were a lot lower than usual. It was probably some of the best conditions we’ve played in all year.”
Team captain Wilson Bowen has said that the team tends to thrive when playing more difficult courses. The team’s performance this weekend and sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 Championships at the relatively tame Oregon State golf course seem to validate this claim.
However, Stanford should have no further problems with regards to course difficulty starting next week. The NCAA Championships will be held at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, a tough course that has hosted three major championships and is the site of the PGA Tour’s annual Northern Trust Open.
Junior Steve Kearney said the Riviera course should suit the team well.
“It is a very long course, which is great because our team is known for power off of the tee,” he said.
In order to prepare for up to six days of play at this difficult course, the Cardinal played a practice round at Riviera a couple of weeks ago and has been watching film of the course.
“It was really cool just to get a sneak preview of the golf course. Not a lot of other teams got that opportunity,” said freshman Patrick Grimes, who shot three-over on the weekend. “You can just kind of get down there and get a feel for what it’s like and then remember some of the shots out there, and then that makes your preparation a lot more specific for the upcoming tournament … it just adds a layer of comfort that can make our practice for the tournament a lot more productive.”
Stanford will send five players to nationals: Rodgers, Yun, Grimes, Kearney and sophomore Cameron Wilson.
The top five teams in each of six NCAA Regionals qualified for the tournament. After three rounds of stroke play, which starts next Tuesday, the top eight teams in the field of 30 will be placed in a bracket and pitted against each other in a single-elimination match play tournament.
In each round of match play, all five golfers from each team will face off against the golfers of another team in 18-hole matches. The school that wins three consecutive contests will be declared NCAA champion on June 3.
Kearney said the Cardinal has greatly stepped up the intensity of its preparations with the NCAA championship right around the corner.
“Not going to NCAAs last year was a huge disappointment, so qualifying this year has motivated us to practice really hard this week,” he said. “Each guy is spending more than four hours a day on their own time on top of team practice. This is our chance to make a statement, and we are ready to do it.”
Grimes and Yun expressed confidence in the team’s chances next week.
“We’ve got as much depth as anyone in the country, and if we put it together, we showed in our first tournament of the year that we’re definitely capable of beating the best teams in the country,” Grimes said. “It’s a really long week, so it’s just a matter of who shows up with their ‘A’ game and can put it together for the whole week.”
“That last day [of regionals], we weren’t looking too good for a little bit. I think for a couple of holes or so we were outside the cut line looking in,” Yun said. ”I think we all … played our hearts out on the last nine holes … If we can start off with that same sense of urgency and that same focus and motivation, I think we can start off and finish out the tournament really well.”
The NCAA Championship begins on May 29th in Los Angeles.