Senior Andrew Yun will seek to repeat as individual conference champion as he leads the No. 9 Stanford men’s golf team into the first round of the Pac-12 Championships today at the Los Angeles Country Club. The Cardinal is vying for its first Pac-12 title since 1994.
“We’re excited about the course [LA North],” head coach Conrad Ray, a freshman on the 1994 team, said. “It was actually designed by the same architect who designed the Stanford golf course, George Thomas. So there’s some similarities in the layout and the framework of the course, and we’re looking forward to getting down there and playing well.”
But No. 8 Stanford will likely have to rely on its depth and endurance and not its course familiarity if it is to improve on its sixth place finish of a year ago. The Pac-12 Tournament is unique in that it will record five scores each day instead of the regular four, and the event will be 72 holes instead of 54.
“It’s a six-man, count-five tournament and we’ve appreciated our depth this year and tried to build upon that,” Ray said. “With an extra person in the lineup and an extra score to count, we’re hoping the depth on our team will pay off for us well as we get into the event.”
Yun is aiming to become the fourth Stanford golfer with multiple Pac-12 titles, a group that includes Pete Choate (‘62, ‘64), Mike Peck (‘77, ‘78) and Christian Cevaer (‘89, ‘92). Despite being the defending champion, he doesn’t think history will help him one iota.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m the defending champion or not,” Yun stated. “It doesn’t give me any advantage once I step on that first tee. What it does give me is confidence that I’ve been in the situation before and succeeded, so if I’m in a similar situation this year I’ll know what to do.”
Although Yun enters as Stanford’s highest returning finisher, sophomore Patrick Rodgers figures to be Stanford’s top man as he has been for most of the season. Rodgers will surely be looking to improve upon his eighth-place finish in the conference tournament last year, garnering Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in the process. Rodgers knows the course will be challenging and that “par is an extremely good score,” but believes the team is ready to challenge for the win in an ultra-competitive league.
“We are very confident,” Rodgers commented on the team’s mentality. “We feel that we have gotten better and progressed as the spring has continued and now it’s about playing well when it counts. These are the biggest events of the year and we are prepared to play our best. Now it comes down to performing when it counts and we are up to that challenge.”
In addition, Rodgers may have to rearrange his current trophy case or purchase a new one, as he was again named to the eight-man Palmer Cup team, which competes at an international collegiate golf event between the US and Europe, and as a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award (collegiate golf’s MVP).
Junior Cameron Wilson, Stanford’s third top-50 player, had his 2012 Pac-12 Tournament end prematurely due to disqualification from signing an incorrect scorecard. One of the Cardinal’s most consistent players during the spring season, Wilson seems to have put the past behind him and is focusing on the specific aspects of the course he can exploit in order to score well.
“LA North has some wide fairways, but on most holes there are still advantages to being accurate off the tee,” Wilson remarked. “Usually one side of the fairway offers a better angle or lie than does the other. I’ve been driving it well and should be able to take advantage of this.”
Senior Steve Kearney, junior Shane Lebow and freshman David Boote round out the rest of the lineup.
Stanford will face extremely stiff competition: there are four Pac-12 teams in the GolfWeek team rankings and seven in the top-50, including No. 1 California, No. 5 UCLA and No. 7 Washington. As for the individual race, Rodgers, ranked No. 6 in the nation, will battle with top-ranked Michael Kim of Cal and 2013 Western Intercollegiate champion Pedro Figueiredo of UCLA.
“Our guys played well in qualifying last week and we’re looking forward to seeing how it pans-out,” Ray said. “The feel of the course is that it will be set up very difficult, there will be a high premium on hitting the ball in the fairway and relying on a good short game to shoot a good score. We’re the fourth-ranked team in the conference and still eighth in the national rankings, so that gives an indication of how strong the field will be. It’s a neat opportunity and one that we’re looking forward to.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 “at” stanford.edu.