To say that the Cardinal athletics program has been successful on the conference level would be the understatement of the century. With literally hundreds of Pac-12 team and individual champions in its history, Stanford has truly earned the moniker “Home of Champions.”
However, this legacy of winning has not been spread equally among the Farm’s 36 intercollegiate sports. The men’s and women’s golf programs have been on the short end of the stick for the past few decades, combining for just two Pac-10/12 titles since 1992 — and none since the turn of the millennium.
But hope does indeed spring eternal: Despite playing in far and away the most competitive conference tournaments in the nation this weekend, both squads are poised to deliver performances worthy of victory. To split a hair, the men, led by senior Cameron Wilson and outgoing junior Patrick Rodgers, might have the slightly easier road to the program’s first league title since 1994.
“It has been quite a while since the Stanford Cardinal have been able to pull out a Pac-10/12 championship,” said head coach Conrad Ray. “So we’re eager and hungry to go play well. I don’t know if underperformance has been the case in terms of not winning the championship; the Pac-12 is stacked year-in and year-out and we’ve had some close calls, but just haven’t been able to get over the hump and win the conference tournament.”
Perennial powerhouse Cal isn’t quite as dominant as in years past after seeing the departure of juggernauts Michael Kim and Max Homa. Nevertheless, the Bears, led by 2013 Masters and U.S. Open participant Michael Weaver and fellow senior Brandon Hagy, easily pose the most serious threat to extend Stanford’s Pac-12 drought.
Conrad Ray’s sextet, which sits one spot behind its No. 5 archrival in GolfWeek’s NCAA team rankings, will counter with the first- and eighth-ranked amateur golfers in the world in Rodgers and Wilson, both of whom will be aiming to win their first individual conference titles in the final Pac-12 event of their careers.
And not only will they have to contend with a strong field, but they will have to negotiate an equally tough golf course as well.
“[The Gallery in Tucson] is a desert course requiring some accuracy off the tee to keep it out of the sand, as well as the greens being challenging with quite a bit of undulation and [bunkers],” Ray said. “So we’ve been working on our trajectory control and ball flight and knowing that there could be some wind potentially in the desert. It’ll also be probably quite a bit warmer than we’re used to, so hopefully our continued fitness and focus on cardiovascular strength over the last couple months will pay off.”
But the current heat of this Stanford team may actually rival that of a Tucson afternoon: The squad is coming off arguably its best performance of the season at the Western Intercollegiate, where it picked up the team victory and individual medalist honors courtesy of Wilson.
That performance was just the latest of an upward trend that has seen the Cardinal win three out of its last four starts; their current roll is certainly an encouraging sign as they embark on what they hope is a lengthy postseason run. With the memory of last year’s disappointment at the NCAA Columbus Regional still stuck in the craw of some, the unit’s urgency will be at a season high.
The women, on the other hand, will need to overcome a significantly tougher challenge if they are to capture their first Pac-12 championship since 1999.
Six Pac-12 teams sit in GolfWeek’s top 10, including the two frontrunners, USC and UCLA. The 2013-14 Trojans and Bruins are amongst the greatest women’s golf teams in NCAA history: USC alone has four players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking top 40, including defending national champion Annie Park. UCLA boasts three women in the top 40 as well, while Stanford has just one — you guessed it, Mariah Stackhouse.
But head coach Anne Walker will also throw out two of collegiate golf’s fastest-rising stars, Lauren Kim and Casey Danielson, both of whom have carried the Card this spring season. Ultimately, though, it will likely take a Herculean effort to take down the SoCal duo at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis, Oregon.
“I’ve never played Trysting Tree, but I’ve heard the rough is thick and it’s important to keep the ball in the fairway,” Kim said. “I don’t think that will be a problem for us, because we’re a good ball-striking team. I think we’ll try to keep the ball in the short grass and stay focused on playing boring golf. That will give us good opportunities for birdie and will minimize mistakes.”
Unlike the men’s tourney, the Pac-12 Women’s Golf Championship is a “play-five-count-four” event, meaning that Mariko Tumangan, Quirine Eijkenboom or Marissa Mar will have to turn in a respectable fourth score if the Cardinal are to have any chance of winning. Depth was an issue for Stanford at this event last year, when it put only two golfers in the individual top 15.
“I think we’re feeling good heading into this event,” Kim remarked. “I think everyone is at a good place individually…we have shown we can compete with the best teams in the country and it just so happens they’re in our conference. But regardless of the result, we want to prepare ourselves for NCAAs and work on the mindset that will help us finish well there.”
Both the men’s and women’s Pac-12 tournaments begin Friday and conclude Sunday, with live scoring provided by golfstatresults.com.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.