Same course, same format, same stakes, same champion?
The No. 8 Stanford men’s golf team will compete for its ninth national championship this weekend at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida, just days after the Stanford women’s team secured Stanford’s 107th NCAA team national championship in a wild match play victory over Baylor.
Following the format of the women’s tournament, the weekend will consist of 54 holes of stroke play, with the top eight teams moving on to a match play elimination tournament with seeding based on finishes in stroke play. If there is one thing the men can take away from watching their female counterparts a few days before, it’s that the unrelenting Concession course won’t offer many concessions to the players that take it on. The 7,483-yard course presented the women’s teams with rough conditions and minimal birdie opportunities, as the stroke play portion was won by USC at 40 over par.
The Cardinal are poised to make some noise in the 30-team field after placing second in the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. The field will be a competitive one, however. Some teams to watch include No. 1 Florida State, a very hot South Florida team that is familiar with The Concession and a dark-horse UNC Charlotte team that surprised Stanford by winning the Chapel Hill regional.
Stanford’s biggest weapon, of course, is sophomore Pac-12 Player of the Year Maverick McNealy. From his school-record-tying 61 at the Pac-12 championships last month to his first place finish in the regional, McNealy may be playing the best golf at the collegiate level in the national right now and seems to show no signs of slowing down. He will be expected to compete for the individual title and keep it in the Stanford trophy case, as Cameron Wilson secured the honor last year.
Coach Conrad Ray acknowledged McNealy’s stellar year and the effect he’s had on the team.
“Maverick has had one the best single seasons in our program’s history. It has been fun to watch,” Ray told Wayne Cavadi of NCAA.com. “It has also been fun to see how the team is the most important thing for him and he realizes that his success is directly related to the team he has around him. Whenever you can have the No. 1 guy playing for you and at such a consistent level it bodes well for the team score.”
McNealy’s success may be the key to a solid stroke play finish, especially if the conditions prove difficult and he can distance himself from the field. However, past that point, McNealy is only one point in the match play format, and that’s where Stanford needs to prove that its depth can help the team compete.
The Cardinal’s five-man roster is rounded out with junior David Boote, sophomore Viraat Badwhar and freshmen Franklin Huang and Jeffrey Swegle.
The team as a whole has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but the one constant weakness for the Cardinal has been a lack of consistency. The team’s performance at Chapel Hill highlights that perfectly. Stanford quickly fell into a hole after shooting a combined 2-over on a calm first day, putting them 15 strokes back. However, the team strangely enough put together a marvelous performance on a rough day 2, posting a 13-under that was 11 strokes better than any other team.
The Cardinal are one of the streakier teams in the field, and The Concession will not be forgiving to inconsistency. However, with Maverick McNealy playing at a title-worthy level and perhaps a confident 2-5 in the lineup, Stanford may be able to string together some solid rounds and earn the school its second team national championship in as many weeks.
Contact Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu.