There are few locales in the U.S. that can stake a claim to “Golf Capital of America.” Augusta, Georgia certainly has history and tradition on its side with The Masters, while Pinehurst, North Carolina, fashions itself as “The Cradle of American Golf.” Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh has hosted a record eight U.S. Opens, and the positions of Olympic Club and Pebble Beach in California cannot easily be glossed over. This week, however, the Midwest will capture the attention of the American golf consciousness—an occasion that does not occur with great frequency, and one that will likely not be eclipsed for some time.
That is because, like their female counterparts currently in action in Tulsa, the Stanford men’s golf team also will hit the American prairie lands for the biggest prize of them all: an NCAA championship. Prairie Dunes Country Club — aptly named — in Hutchinson, Kansas, will host the collegiate finals, which will start today and conclude next Wednesday.
The Cardinal enter the event as the nation’s third-seeded squad behind Oklahoma State and defending national champion Alabama while sporting two of the best amateur golfers in the world in their lineup: junior Patrick Rodgers and senior Cameron Wilson. Head coach Conrad Ray ‘97 knows the type of production he will get out of his well-known front-runners, so he believes that it is the back end of his lineup that will need to do some heavy lifting over the next several days.
“We talk about those guys a lot, but I think the keys for our success this whole year have been our younger guys on the roster,” Ray said. “We’ve had some great depth, and Viraat Badhwar snuck in a nice top-15 finish at regionals and just played solid. David Boote played solidly as well and Maverick McNealy had a little bit of an off-week, but I think he’ll be ready to go here at nationals. We’re excited about relying on those guys to pitch in a good score and contribute to the team, and just make a lot of pars — which is what they’re good at.”
“In my opinion, the best 1-2 punch in college golf right now is Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson,” added college golf analyst Steve Burkowski on a media conference call Wednesday. “Very solid team, and Patrick Rodgers is on a mission. I’m telling you, he’s going to try to put the team on his back and ride them to a national championship.
“That being said, when you get to match play, you need others to step up. And my slightest of concerns is that if you’re good with Patrick and Cameron, what are you going to get from the guys in the 4-5 holes? They’re going to need a little something special down in the 4-5 spots to win it all come next Wednesday.”
The task of shoring up Stanford’s team score will be on the clubs of sophomore Boote, freshman McNealy and freshman Badhwar. Boote has been a fixture in Ray’s lineup for much of the past two campaigns, recording three top-25 individual finishes in his past three tournaments. These impressive results, combined with his experience, make him the likely candidate to follow-up Rodgers and Wilson in the No. 3 scoring position.
McNealy also figures to be either the unit’s third or fourth scorer; the local Portola Valley product has had an excellent spring, with three top-10 finshes in four tournaments, dating back to The Goodwin. His classmate Badhwar is coming off an impressive showing at regionals, and the Card hope that he can maintain his momentum at his first NCAA finals.
An obstacle facing the Card in Kansas is the howling winds that are common in the region, as well as the links-style course that they will face in Prairie Dunes. Both the course and the conditions are relatively unfamiliar to the Bay Area squad. Former Cardinal golfer Notah Begay III ‘95 — who was a teammate of Tiger Woods and Ray in his time on the Farm — noted as much in Wednesday’s conference call, while seeming concerned that Stanford does not often play in this type of environment. However, despite the steep learning curve that the unit has faced in its practice rounds this week, Ray believes that his squad knows how to handle the swirling winds.
“We’re excited to be at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kansas; it’s a Perry Maxwell design, who’s a famous old architect throughout the United States,” Ray said. “It’s an epic golf course, and even though it’s out in the middle of nowhere a bit, it’s a very good golf course. It’s not uncommon for the wind to blow 20 to 30 miles an hour on a daily basis in the prairie lands of Kansas, so we’ve been focusing this week on our wind game and controlling our shots, using the wind as our friend and as a backstop…keeping the ball on the ground is a huge advantage.”
A victory for the Cardinal at Prairie Dunes would cap a tremendous season that has seen the group win six events. The last time that Stanford won six times in a regular season was back in 2007, when the Cardinal won their most recent national championship, the eighth in program history. It would also be the perfect send-off for the graduating senior Wilson and the outgoing Rodgers, given their significant contributions to the team, and to the rich legacy of Stanford golf. Both veterans noted that talented teams that the Card have fielded in the past several years have underperformed — last season’s ouster at the regional, for example — so Stanford is determined to reverse that luck this time around.
“Our guys felt good about their play at the regional,” Ray remarked. “We didn’t have the best day in our final round, but that’s part of winning: Wins come in all forms, and our motto this year has been ‘make winning a habit.’ We’ve done that here over the last couple months and hope that will continue at NCAAs…spirits are high and the vibe is great.”
Contact Cameron Miller at [email protected].