The Stanford men’s golf team is seemingly stuck on seven — seventh place, that is. For the second consecutive year, the Cardinal opened its spring season by finishing seventh at the Amer Ari Invitational in Kona, Hawaii, which ended Saturday. It was also the third straight season in which Stanford put a player in the individual top-five at the event; this year, senior Cameron Wilson led the charge, firing a cumulative 14-under-par score to claim third place.
“We felt positive about our experience in Hawaii,” said head coach Conrad Ray. “Obviously, the result could’ve been a little bit better but the scores were very much bunched up where we finished — shooting 27-under and still finishing in seventh place. [I] felt like the guys fought hard the last two rounds after a slow start.”
Thursday’s first round was indeed a sluggish, inauspicious start for the Card, who checked in after 18 holes in 11th place out of 20 squads and 10 strokes off the feverish pace set by No. 2 Oklahoma State. Wilson survived a rocky start, which resulted in a double-bogey on his opening hole, and went on to post a 5-under 67 on the par-72, 7074-yard Waikoloa Kings Course.
“I was happy with my game this week,” Wilson said. “Like last year, two to three bad holes hurt my chances. I had a weird lost ball on my first hole of the tournament when I hit a drive that was only a few paces off the fairway in the rough. I was proud of how I bounced back from that unfortunate break.”
Another lucky stroke that Stanford and the field received was relatively calm weather for the duration of the event. The forecasted rain and unpredictable heavy winds did not arrive and the 20 teams at Amer Ari combined to shoot 360-under-par and nearly 1300 birdies.
The scoring on the par-3 holes, however, was a different story. The combined average score on the course’s four par-3 holes was 3.14, and Stanford’s top five golfers managed only six birdies versus nine bogeys or worse on such holes. Given his analytical approach, it is not surprising that Ray has chosen to concentrate on improvements in this area in upcoming practices.
“We’re going to focus this coming week on some of the nuances we picked up on,” said Ray. “Par-3 scoring, in particular, needs some attention. We need to work hard on figuring out how to play the par-3 holes a little bit better as we move through the spring.”
For his part, though, Wilson was 3-under and accounted for half of his team’s birdies on the par-3 holes. His solid play on the shorter holes — each par-3 averaged just 192 yards — enabled the Connecticut native to get into the red early and often. Friday’s second round saw Wilson reel off eight birdies over a 10-hole stretch en route to a 7-under 65, a performance that gave him the 36-hole lead.
However, he wasn’t able to hold it, as USC’s Jeffrey Kang and individual winner Jordan Niebrugge of Oklahoma State leapfrogged Wilson on Sunday to edge Stanford’s lone senior in the lineup by one and two strokes, respectively. Highly touted junior Patrick Rodgers, ranked amongst the world’s top-25 amateur golfers, also turned in a top-10 individual finish propelled by his final round 6-under 66.
“[I was] happy to see Cameron and Patrick do well in their individual efforts,” Ray said. “I know with some support from the guys down in the lineup a bit we should be in good shape for the Prestige.”
And “the guys down in the lineup” will certainly need to perform better than they did at Amer Ari if the team is to recognize its goals of competing for the Pac-12 and national championships this spring. Sophomore David Boote had an up-and-down tournament while playing in the team’s number-one slot, shooting 75-69-71 to finish at T-56th in the individual standings. Freshman Viraat Badhwar rounded out the scoring four with a cumulative 2-over 218, T-77th performance, with classmate Mav McNealy not far behind at 4-over for the event. Junior Patrick Grimes and freshman Jim Liu — both of whom played as individuals — placed T-98th with 7-over 223 scores.
Ray’s squad will take this week off before teeing up next Monday at The Prestige at PGA West Tournament in La Quinta, Calif.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.