No. 5 Stanford men’s golf heads to Hawaii on Thursday for the Amer Ari Invitational at the Waikaloa King’s Course. The event, co-hosted by University of Hawaii-Manoa and University of Hawaii-Hilo, is the Cardinal’s first event of the spring season after a three-month break from competition.
The Cardinal join a stacked field on the Big Island; five of the 19 teams are in the nation’s top 25, led by No. 1 Auburn. Though schools from all over the country will play in the three-round tournament from Thursday to Saturday, it will have a decidedly West Coast vibe. Seven Pac-12 schools, including the three teams (Stanford, USC and Arizona State) most likely to compete for the conference title, will attend the tournament. The Cardinal have seen the Trojans and Sun Devils in one tournament each this season, and both teams will be good measuring sticks for Stanford as the spring season progresses.
With fall quarter finals and winter break, the “offseason” between fall and spring can be a difficult time for players to get in work and improve their games. The players’ fragmented, unpredictable schedules mean that much of the responsibility to practice is on the players themselves.
“The guys have a ton of choices to make,” Cardinal head coach Conrad Ray wrote on the team’s blog. “Do I get out for an extra putting session on my own even though the rest of my team might not be there?… Is there an extra event I can put on my schedule if I need some more reps under pressure?”
Historically, the Cardinal have started a little slowly coming off the long break. In each of the last three seasons, Stanford has started the spring season in Hawaii, where they have recorded two seventh-place finishes and a 10th-place finish last season.
If the fall season is any indication, this year’s Cardinal squad has ambitions of a better result this weekend. Playing in four highly competitive fall tournaments, the Cardinal finished outside of the top five just once, highlighted by a runner-up performance at their most recent competition, the Gifford Collegiate.
Central to the Cardinal’s success has been the outstanding play of junior Maverick McNealy, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner and second-ranked amateur golfer in the world. McNealy finished as the top individual in three of the four fall tournaments, finishing eight of those 12 rounds under par. Although McNealy was arguably the best collegiate golfer in the country last season, he has gotten even better this year, avoiding the occasional high-scoring round that tended to take him out of medalist contention in the past.
After McNealy, the remaining Cardinal golfers have each displayed immense talent but have not strung together consistently high results.
Senior David Boote has made the best case this season to be the Cardinal’s No. 2 option. Boote finished fifth at the Gifford Collegiate, his best finish since the NCAA Championships in his sophomore season. Junior Viraat Badhwar has yet to exhibit the form that he did over large stretches last season, when he recorded three top-10 finishes. This season, Badhwar has finished in the top 25 just once so far, making him a likely candidate to improve as the season progresses.
Joining the three upperclassmen on the trip will be sophomore Bradley Knox, freshman Brandon Wu and freshman Isaiah Salinda, who will be competing as an individual in the tournament.
Though the Amer Ari Invitational takes on additional meaning to the Cardinal because of its place in the schedule, Ray is aware of the season’s relatively slow pace and the need to peak at the right time.
“The goal is to have consistent improvement in all areas from each one of our guys throughout the year with the culmination being the NCAA Championships in the spring.”
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.