USC To Kick Off 2021 Season At Southwestern Invitational
A new era of USC men's golf finally kicks off with the start of the 2021 season as the Trojans, under first-year head coach J.T. Higgins, are set to play in the Southwestern Invitational, Monday through Wednesday (Jan. 25-27), at the North Ranch C.C. in Westlake Village, Calif.
The annual 12-team tournament, in its 42nd edition, will use parts of both the Lakes and Oaks courses at North Ranch, combining for a par 72, 6,992-yard venue.
The field includes host Pepperdine, USC, ASU, Augusta, California, East Tennessee State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Saint Mary's San Diego State, San Jose State and SMU.
Golf Channel will air live coverage each day beginning at 1:30 p.m. PT. Tee times off of 1 begin at 7:37 a.m. Monday and Tuesday. USC will tee off beginning at 10:20 a.m. Results will available at Golfstat.com.
"We're excited. It's a different world. There have been a lots of logistics, and policy and procedures to reach this point, but at the end of the day we get to play," Higgins said. "The guys are excited and we can't wait to see how it goes."
The Trojans had eight rounds of qualifying to set their first starting lineup of the season, trying to shed some of the rust from the lack of competition.
"We were trying to get as many competitive rounds under our belts as we could," he said. "We hadn't played much tournament golf in a while so tried to replicate it. The guys did a great job and should be ready to go on Monday.
"I'm excited to coach these guys. I like the kids and the team. They've been amazing, have worked hard and have a great attitude. They are very talented and resilient and have done everything we've asked of them."
The Trojans formerly hosted the event as both the USC Collegiate Invitational and the North Ranch Intercollegiate. They have won the tournament seven times, most recently a one-stroke victory in 2019 over California at 4-under 860 (284-285-291). Former All-American Justin Suh won the individual crown at 12-under 204 (68-68-68) that year and clinched the team win with a birdie on the final hole. Prior to that, USC last won the event in 2016 at 26-under 838.
Andrew Levitt was the individual winner (with an 8-under 208) in 2016, one of six Trojans with Suh who have won the tournament title. Other winners include Yi Keun Chang (2013), Tim Sluiter (2008), Rory Hie (2007) and Sam Randolph (1984).
USC tied for second in 2019, led by then junior Leon D'Souza's second-place finish at 11-under.
The starting lineup for the first event will consist of freshman Shane Ffrench, seniors Kaito Onishi and D'Souza, sophomore Tyler Guo and junior Cameron Henry.
The New Staff
Higgins took over as USC's head coach on Aug. 14, 2020, replacing Chris Zambri, and will be joined on the course by first-year assistant coach Matt Walton, hired Nov. 4.
Higgins joined USC already a GCAA Hall of Fame coach following 19 seasons at Texas A&M (2002-20) and four at New Mexico (1998-01). He guided the Texas A&M men's team to an NCAA championship (2009) and 17 NCAA appearances during his 19 years there and has been named Conference Coach of the Year three times and Region/District Coach of the Year four times.
Higgins teams earned a school-record 12 consecutive NCAA Regional berths from 2003 to 2014. The Aggies posted 12 Top 5 finishes in NCAA Regional play, including Regional championships in 2018 and 2019, and had 10 Top 15 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including tied for fifth in 2018 and 2019. A&M finished in the Top 20 national ranking 12 times under Higgins and twice was in the nation's Top 5 in scoring rating. His teams posted the 15 lowest season scoring averages in school history.
Walton is a collegiate All-American with Division I coaching experience to complement a broad array of work with juniors and amateurs. He came to USC after one season as the men's golf assistant coach at Wichita State (2019-20) in which the Shockers won one regular-season event (NMSU/Herb Wimberly Invitational), posted one individual title and combined for another two individual top 10 finishes in the Covid-shortened season.
Before joining Wichita State, Walton served as lead coach at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla., providing comprehensive training for some of the nation's top junior golfers. Prior to that he worked as an assistant professional for several years in Indiana.
The 2021 Trojans
USC's 2021 squad features four seniors in graduate Kyle Suppa, fourth-year seniors Kaito Onishi and Issei Tanabe and second-year Trojan Leon D'Souza. Fellow returning Trojans include junior Cameron Henry and sophomore Tyler Guo. New to the team this season are freshmen Shane Ffrench, Ethan Chung and Krando Nishiba.
Gone from the squad are Yuxin Lin, who transferred to Florida late in 2020, and Charlie Reiter, who transferred out of USC after the 2019 fall season.
D'Souza is USC's leading returning golfer in terms of stroke average (70.67) and rounds in the 60s (eight). He posted three top 4 finishes, including his second at the Southwestern Invitational at 11-under, a tie for second at the Bill Cullum Invitational at 13-under and a fourth at The Prestige at 10-under.
D'Souza joined Tanabe, Suppa and Guo with team-highs of 18 rounds in the shortened season. Tanabe finished second in stroke average (72.33) to go with five rounds in the 60s. He closed the season with a season-best tie for ninth at the Southern Highlands Invitational at 2-under to go with two other top 30 finishes.
Onishi, USC's lone All-American on the squad (an honor earned as a 2019 sophomore), played just 12 rounds last year, highlighted by a tie for third at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, which saw his lone round in the 60s. He posted a stroke average of 73.00
Suppa had two rounds in the 60s as a true senior, his season highlighted by a tie for 22nd at The Prestige.
Henry opened his junior season with a 68 en route to a season-best tie for 13th at the Mea Lanakila Individual and closed with a 25th at the Southern Highlands Invitational at 3-over. Guo had two rounds in the 60s and turned in a season-best tie for 17th at The Prestige.