Looking to break through the huge disappointment it suffered at last year’s regional and move one step closer to their ultimate goal of a national championship, the Stanford men’s golf team will hit the Eugene Country Club course today at the NCAA West Regional. The Cardinal enter the event as the regional’s top seed, with the hopes of keeping their momentum rolling after winning the Pac-12 Championship in dominating fashion a few weeks ago.
“We’re excited about the event,” said Stanford head coach Conrad Ray. “It’s a traditional old course that requires a lot of shot-making. It’s not super long, but there’s a high premium for balls in the fairway and controlling your golf ball on the greens and keeping the ball below the hole.”
Not only will the layout in Eugene require some technical navigating, but the Card are also facing a solid but manageable field. The 13-team regional includes No. 10 Houston, No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 22 South Carolina, plus the Big South Conference champion in Liberty. In order to advance to the NCAA Championships in Hutchinson, Kansas, Stanford will need to finish in the top five at the regional — a forgone conclusion to some when considering the Cardinal’s lofty No. 3 ranking. But the squad realizes that despite its recent successes, nothing can be taken for granted.
Still, Ray’s group has performed well against the teams they will face at the regional in its tournament play this season. Stanford is 4-0 versus Oklahoma and Baylor in tournaments over the fall and spring seasons, and has only one loss to all teams in the field over the entire year — to regional host Oregon at February’s Amer Ari Invitational. The Ducks finished just two strokes in front of the Card at the event. Since the squad’s trip to Hawaii, it has won four of their five starts and has seen every part of their lineup blossom.
Veterans Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson continue to lead Stanford at the front; Rodgers still sits atop the World Amateur Golf Rankings, with Wilson climbing to sixth as he continues to enjoy a rise in his stock over the recent weeks. Freshman Maverick McNealy has emerged during the spring season as an excellent third scorer for the Cardinal, with sophomore David Boote nipping at his heels.
After playing in just two of the team’s fall events, McNealy has overcome the initial inconsistency down the stretch, evidenced by his 69.6 scoring average over his past three starts. Fellow freshman Viraat Badhwar will likely round out Stanford’s quintet in Eugene — the New Delhi, India native will attempt to replicate his solid T-16th performance from the Pac-12 Championships and give the Card the depth they need to compete with the nation’s best — Wilson topped the group by shooting even-par on the 16 par-3s he played over the four-round event.
In addition to getting production from their two frontrunners and turning solid third and fourth numbers, the Card have also been focusing on improving their par-3 scoring heading into regionals. It’s certainly an area that the unit should address, given that none of the six players at Pac-12s had a cumulative under-par score on the par-3s at The Gallery course.
“We’ve been having some great practices and good competition in the local area just amongst ourselves,” Ray remarked of the group’s focus since the conference tournament. “The guys are definitely feeling good about their games and hopeful the outcome will be what we’re looking for.”
“We’ve been working hard on our par-3 scoring, so we’re trying to step up some simulation on the par-3s that we’ll face at Eugene Country Club, which are key holes on the golf course: over water and difficult holes,” Ray added. “There’s also some premium on driving the golf ball in the fairway, with some thick rough and tighter fairways lined by Oregon pines.”
But perhaps more important than the on-course challenge Stanford will face is the mental battle it will have to wage in order to avoid the letdown it suffered one year ago. Though the team might not admit it, the crash-and-burn of last season’s Columbus Regional is still stuck in the craw of some and has been a latent motivator this entire campaign. There is no doubt that this team is out to correct those wrongs and strike back with a vengeance.
“Last year was a tough one, no questions asked,” Ray said of 2013. “But we were within a shot of the lead going into the final round, and we just played a tough round, a bad round when we couldn’t. I think our guys also realize that we need to go up to Eugene with the mindset of winning the golf tournament, and not playing to qualify or make the cut.”
“We want to go win and keep our roll going and ride that momentum as we go into NCAAs, hopefully,” he added. “I think the season we’ve had this year will lend itself to that, and I think our guys are using last year’s disappointment as good motivation for when we turn up at regionals being ready to go.”
Play at the Eugene Country Club begins today, with the 54-hole regional wrapping up on Saturday. Live scoring will be provided by golfstatresults.com.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.