Last spring, the Stanford men’s golf team saw its season end in disappointment. Four years removed from a national championship, and three years after finishing as the nation’s runner-up, the Cardinal finished sixth in the NCAA Central Regionals last year. In a tournament that saw the top five teams move on to the NCAA Championship, the Cardinal, seeded fourth heading into the tournament, stayed home.
But if the fall season is any indication, the Cardinal will not falter again this spring. In its first tournament of the fall, the team dominated a strong field, winning the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational by 16 shots. Freshman Patrick Rodgers stormed onto the college golf scene, shooting 68-70-68 to win the individual title in his first intercollegiate competition. Close behind were teammates junior Andrew Yun and sophomore Cameron Wilson, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
Three weeks later, the Cardinal, then ranked No. 1 in the nation, took third place at The Prestige tournament in Palm Springs. Although the Cardinal cooled off in its next few tournaments, team captain Wilson Bowen is convinced that the team is ready to make a statement this spring.
“We kind of showed everyone right off the bat that we’re the team to beat, so that was good,” Bowen, a senior, said. “It was a good start and then kind of disappointing the way we played the last three tournaments, but I think we’ll learn from the experience.”
“Any time you go out [and] you don’t play well, as long as you learn from it, it can be a positive,” he added. “So I think we’re going to draw on that and go forward and have a great spring.”
Currently ranked No. 7 in the nation, the team is loaded with talent and has been boosted by three strong freshmen–Rodgers, Patrick Grimes and Marcel Puyat. Rodgers, who recently played on the U.S. Walker Cup team, has yet to finish outside the top 10 in a college tournament and is ranked No. 4 in the country as an individual. He has compiled a gaudy 70.5 scoring average through four tournaments and will play in the team’s No. 1 slot in the upcoming University of Hawaii-Hilo tournament.
Senior captain David Chung is also projected to have a solid year. In 2010, Chung won the Western Amateur and the Porter Cup before finishing second in the U.S. Amateur. He went on to earn spots in the 2011 Masters and U.S. Open tournaments.
Wilson, junior Steve Kearney and Yun, a 2010-2011 PING All-American who collected seven top-10 finishes last year, round out the team’s lineup for the UH-Hilo tournament.
“This first event of the new year is a big one,” head coach Conrad Ray said. “There’s [sic] a lot of teams from all over the country that will be there, teams that we’ll eventually have to come up against if we want to win the championship this year.”
Ray added that most of all, the team needs to work on its consistency. Bowen emphasized the importance of getting into a winning habit and peaking at the right time.
“One of the key things for us is to start winning tournaments, because it’s going to be evidence to us that we’re putting the time in on the right things and practicing correctly,” Bowen said.
“I think when we won our last national championship in  we won like six or seven times during the year,” he added. “When you are in a pressure situation [and] you have to make par on the last hole to win, or you have to make a birdie, you have the confidence that you can do that because you’ve done it before. You can draw on that previous experience.”
Adding to the Cardinal’s bright outlook for the season is the fact that the team will play this year’s NCAA Regional at the Stanford Golf Course. Aided by home-course advantage, the Cardinal can count on familiarity and fans in its bid for a berth to the NCAA Championship, which will be held at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
“We can go all the way for sure,” Bowen said. “We have an unbelievably talented team. We won our first event at Olympia Fields this year by a bunch of strokes over one of the best fields in the country, so anytime you can do that, you obviously have a great chance to win a national title. So that’s our goal, that’s what we’re going to work towards all spring, and then I think we’ll be ready come June.”
Ray is equally enthusiastic about the team’s national title hopes, but recognizes that June is still several months, and many tournaments, away.
“I’m excited about our chances,” Ray said. “There’s so much that needs to happen before we can really get to the ultimate prize, but we have a competitive team, we have some depth, we have a good schedule lined up, the guys are a close-knit group, which always helps… We feel like we have a chance, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask for.”