Golfers Ready For NCAA West Regional
BOULDER - The University of Colorado men's golf team is used to making the NCAA regionals, qualifying for the fourth straight year, but the Buffaloes hope to take things a step further and advance to the NCAA Championship Finals, something CU has not done since 2002.
Colorado is one of 13 teams set to compete in the NCAA West Regional beginning this Thursday, CU's fourth straight regional appearance and 16th in the 21 years since the NCAA went to the format in 1989. But Colorado has advanced to the finals just four times, doing so in 1989, 1994, 1999 and 2002. The first two times, the Buffaloes finished third and second in the regional, the last two times, the Buffs took the 10th and final qualifying position.
The West Regional runs from Thursday through Saturday with 18 holes per day at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, located just southwest of San Francisco. LMGC is a 6,863-yard, par-72 layout that was originally designed in 1922 and then redesigned seven years later in 1929 under the guidance of fabled architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie
With the regional format tweaked for the first time since it was created, there are six sites instead of three and the top five teams will now advance to the finals. The Buffs are the No. 8 seed in the regional and are ranked 39th in the nation (Golfweek; No. 43 by GolfStat). The region is headlined by No. 3 Southern California, No. 13 Texas A&M and No. 15 Arizona State; CU is 2-1 against those three this season. CU will play the first round with No. 37 New Mexico and No. 50 UC-Irvine.
Colorado has seen all but two of the other 12 teams in the regional this year, posting an 11-7 collective record against the group. The only two the Buffs have not seen are Irvine and San Diego State.
Head coach Roy Edwards' team is fresh off a runner-up finish in the Big 12 Championships, CU's best league result since placing second in the 1981 Big 8 meet. But his team doesn't view that as a fluke, despite being referred to as "pesky" Colorado in a couple of national stories.
"We're excited about the finish, but we're looking forward to going to regional," Edwards said. "We're excited about the practice round and excited about the first day. Most of the guys probably haven't given it that much thought until they were done with U.S Open Qualifying. I think we knew we belonged, and finishing second wasn't a surprise to us, it was a by-product of that. We started off this spring with a good tournament in Hawaii and it's just built from there. We're 50-5-1 in our last four tournaments and have beaten several teams ranked ahead of us in that span."
Edwards is taking the same five players to the regional that participated in the Big 12 Championships, seniors Pat Grady and Derek Tolan, junior Luke Symons and freshmen Kevin Kring and Johnny Widmer. Tolan, Kring and Widmer had final tune-ups for the regional by playing in Monday's U.S. Open Qualifier at Colorado Golf Club in Parker; Widmer is the second alternate, the other two did not make the cut into the next round.
Tolan has been co-medalist in two meets this year and set the school record for fall stroke average at 71.00 (breaking the mark of 71.15 set by John Lindberg in 1987) and leads the team with a 71.89 stroke norm. Grady is also a two-time medalist and has a 71.97 average; those two stroke averages as of now rank as the second and third best in CU single season history (and 20th and 22nd in the nation), as they are chasing the mark of 71.46 set by Kane Webber in 2003-04. The senior duo is close to many other records and moving their way up several all-time CU charts.
They have been the major reason Colorado has tied the school mark for the most top five finishes in major tournaments ? seven ? in a single season.
"We just have to keep doing what we're good at, which has been being patient, being good course managers and being confident in what we're doing," Edwards answered when queried on what his team needs to do to finish in the top five. "When we've done that, we've played our best, and if we can do that here, we have a great shot at advancing to the finals."
This will be just the third time in 16 regional appearances that the Buffs will take two freshmen to the NCAA's. In 1999, Shawn Wills and Matt Zions were both true freshman, as is the pair this year, and a year later, Stephen Carroll, a redshirt frosh, and Kane Webber (true) help represent CU.
The NCAA Finals will be May 26-30 in Toledo, and that format has also changed. There will be three days of stroke play to crown an individual champion, with the top eight teams advancing to two days of match play to determine the team champion.
BUFFS & U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING: Several Buffaloes participated in U.S. Open Local Qualifying Monday at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, with Johnny Widmer posting the best score, an even-par 72; he won a playoff for the second alternate spot. Other CU scores included 74s by Derek Tolan and assistant coach Jim Grady, a 78 by Josh Creel, a 79 by Justin Bardgett, an 80 by Sebastian Heisele and an 85 by Kevin Kring. Three Buffs will attempt to qualify next week at Lone Tree Golf Club, Patrick Grady, Tom Gempel and Luke Symons. The remaining two Buffs, Michael Imperato and Jason Burstyn, will try to qualify near their hometowns in California and Florida, respectively.
DID YOU KNOW? Colorado, Ohio State, Stanford and Wake Forest have produced the most U.S. Open champions with four. CU's Hale Irwin has won three (1974, 1979, 1990) and Steve Jones one (1996). Ohio State's Jack Nicklaus claimed four by himself, while Stanford has had Tiger Woods win three and Tom Watson one; Wake Forest has had three players do it.