The Stanford men’s golf team was unable to overcome a poor start to the NCAA Championships, finishing tied for 22nd and missing the cut after three rounds. The Cardinal finished 9 strokes out of the top 15, where they would have needed to finish to advance to the final stroke play round.
The Cardinal came into the championships with a promising runner-up finish in their regional, but ended up fighting an uphill battle after a disastrous first round of 22-over 310, the third-worst score in the entire tournament. The team struggled all day long at the notoriously tough Concession Golf Course, where just three of the 18 holes, all par-5s, averaged under par for the tournament. In tough scoring conditions with bogeys abound, successful teams tend to rely on conservative play coupled with solid ball-striking. Stanford displayed neither in the first round, as freshman Jeffrey Swegle was the only Cardinal with fewer than 6 bogeys. Swegle’s 2-over 74, in which his only major hiccup was a double bogey on the 15th, was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing day.
“I didn’t hit the ball that well, but did a great job of managing my ball around the course,” Swegle said. “Last night, I went through my yardage book and mapped out the easiest ways to get into the fairway and onto the green.”
Sophomore Maverick McNealy’s round was a microcosm of Stanford’s as a whole. McNealy, who recently won the Haskins Award (given to college golf’s top player), saw his medalist chances disappear after a 6-over 78 in the first round. Franklin Huang’s 7-over par opening round included the shot of the day, as the freshman holed out for eagle after laying up on the par-5 13th. Junior David Boote rounded out the Cardinal’s top four scorers on the day at 7-over 79.
Although the Cardinal posted a much stronger second round, scoring a 9-over 297, they did very little to increase their chances of advancing. McNealy found his putting touch and approached the greens more conservatively, allowing him to rebound nicely, recording just two bogeys and finishing with a 72. Unlike McNealy, Boote was up-and-down all day, finishing with five bogeys and an incredible hole-out eagle en route to a 74. Huang and sophomore Viraat Badhwar rounded out the Cardinal’s second day with solid scores of 75 and 76, respectively. Head coach Conrad Ray was pleased with the team’s improvement, but was aware that its 26th place in the standings left the Cardinal plenty of work.
“We made progress today and played better, but still need to tighten up our games,” Ray said. “It comes down to hitting our targets and being more comfortable on the greens.”
Knowing that only a spectacular round could vault them into the top 15, the Cardinal golfers saved their best round of the tournament for last, finishing with a 4-over 292 that demonstrated resilience and increasingly better knowledge of the golf course.
Once again, the Cardinal were paced by McNealy, whose three birdies on the par-5s allowed him to finish with a 70, Stanford’s only under-par round of the tournament. Like the team as a whole, he couldn’t overcome a poor first round, and finished tied for 35th in the individual competition after 54 holes. Huang’s steady final-round 73 was a model for how the Cardinal should have approached the course from the start. Huang recorded 15 pars on the unforgiving course and avoided a double bogey for the second consecutive day.
Like Huang, Boote settled down, posting just three bogeys and birdieing his next-to-last hole for a 2-over 74. Swegle’s 75 ensured that the Cardinal would record their best round of the tournament when they needed it most. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for Stanford, who came in with high hopes after winning the Pac-12 Championships for the second consecutive year.
“The position we put ourselves in after day one turned out to be too difficult to overcome,” Ray said after the third round. “Our guys need to be proud of their body of work from the entire year, and it’s unfortunate we didn’t have our best stuff this week.”
After recording mostly top-10 results all season long, the Cardinal may feel disappointed that a single poor day left them outside of the championship hunt. However, next year’s team figures to be strong; like their championship-winning counterparts on the women’s team, the Cardinal return all five of their starting golfers next year. Armed with the experience of a bittersweet season, and with the nation’s top golfer in tow, the Cardinal should be able to contend by this time next year.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at ssri16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.