One year after failing to qualify for the national championship for the first time since 2013, Stanford men’s golf punched its ticket to Scottsdale, Ariz., with a statement performance at the West Regional Championship. Needing a top-five score in the 14-team pool, the Cardinal churned out a second-place finish in the three-day tournament at The Reserve at Spanos Park with a final score of 28-under-par.
Unlike last year, when COVID-19 infections forced several key Stanford golfers to sit out of regional play, the Cardinal were at full strength this week. The lineup — junior Barclay Brown, senior Ethan Ng, sixth-year Henry Shimp, sophomore Michael Thorbjornsen and sophomore Karl Vilips — did not drop below fifth place in the team standings at any moment during the tournament.
“It’s been frustrating for our team the last two years,” Brown said. “I think we’re probably feeling more relief at the moment than joy. We’ll save the joy for after the national championship.”
Brown, who had a blistering run to end the season, led the Cardinal charge on day one amid windy conditions. After an opening bogey, Brown put any nerves to rest with a polished performance over the next 17 holes, recording five birdies and no bogeys to vault him into a tie for the lead with Shimp and Arizona State freshman Jose Luis Ballaster.
A South Yorkshire native who built his game in the blustery conditions of English links golf, Brown felt that he had an edge over the field this week.
“I have a little more confidence in the wind because I know I’m more prepared for it than most other people,” Brown said. “People are going to get annoyed when there are bad conditions, so if I just manage my emotions, then I’ll already be ahead of most of the competition from the start.”
After capturing the day-one lead with a team score of 10-under-par, the team turned its attention to consistency. But first-round success has not always been a harbinger of wins for this Cardinal team, which gave up a seven-stroke final-round lead at home in The Goodwin. This time, though, Stanford recorded one of its steadiest weeks all season.
On Tuesday, Stanford put together another dominant performance, with each of its top-four golfers shooting under par. The day was a display of resilience by the Cardinal, who got off to a slow start and quickly lost their first-round advantage before finding their groove again. There was a buzz of determination across the course — after his tee shot sailed into the water, Brown got up and down for a crucial par on the second hole. On the par-four 17th hole, Ng’s drive found the lake, but after taking a drop, the senior stuck his approach from the rough to four feet and drained his par putt. Stanford would finish the day at 19-under-par, one stroke behind Arizona State.
Day two was not only a show of Stanford’s talent, but also of its team unity. On Tuesday, senior Daulet Tuleubayev, one of only two golfers from the Cardinal’s 2019 national championship–winning lineup who remains a Stanford player, made the early morning drive from Palo Alto to Stockton along with fifth-year Nate Menon and sophomore Jake Beber-Frankel to show their support. As Stanford looks to make a run at the national title, the team will look to its veterans for guidance and the younger players for firepower.
“Our team is in a fortunate position in that we have a team of players who are very experienced in competitive golf, so everyone has plenty of confidence going into the event,” Brown said. “We’ve all been in similar situations before, so we know what we’re doing.”
If a team was going to come from behind and bump the Cardinal out of the national championship, their opportunity came mid-round on Wednesday. Faltering early, Stanford briefly fell into fifth place with only four strokes between the Cardinal and the nearest challenger. Much like Tuesday, however, Stanford swiftly put those worries to rest, recording a scorching finish to the round behind Thorbjornsen’s eagle. Stanford’s 28-under-par finish still fell well short of Arizona State, which rolled to a 10-stroke victory on the week.
The week was also another heartbreaking finish for Brown, who came up one stroke short of the individual title for the second time in two weeks, despite a final round 69.
“Over the last couple of weeks, I have not finished well, and that’s something that is very frustrating and that I will continue to work on,” Brown said. “I know that second place is a good finish but obviously a bit sore at the moment to have two of those back to back.”
Still, the team’s full attention is trained on Scottsdale, where Stanford will look to win its 10th national championship.
“This means everything to us,” Ng said. “I mean, this is why we come to school. This is why we play golf here: to make it to the national championship. The job starts here. Especially for me, in my four years here, I have not been able to partake in a National Championship team, so I am very much looking forward to being able to go to Arizona and play with this team. It’s a dream come true.”
The next stop on Stanford’s road to the title will come on May 27 in the stroke-play portion of the national championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, a course that Ng said sets up well for the Cardinal.
“There’s an emphasis on hitting the fairways and hitting greens, especially since it is a long course,” Ng said. “It’s definitely a ball striker’s course, and we have a ball striking team.”