Buff Golfers Ready For Pac-12 Championships
SAMMAMISH, Wash. — The 62nd Annual Pac-12 Conference men's golf championships, the 10th version with 12 schools, begins here Monday, with the Colorado Buffaloes leading a "youth movement" with three true freshmen of its six players set to compete here.
Overall, despite the extra years of eligibility handed out across the NCAA landscape, 20 of the 72 players competing here are freshmen. The Buffs had five freshmen among the top 24 in the league for the season, including two of the top six in true frosh Justin Biwer (70.59 scoring average, tops among the conference rookies) and Dylan McDermott (72.26, sixth-best). Rounding out the freshmen trio is Frederik Eisenbeis (73.75, 20th-best). Six others schools have two freshmen playing this week: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Southern California and UCLA. With so many first-timers in a conference meet, it could make for a very interesting week.
The three "rookies," all of whom currently own averages among the nine-best by freshmen in school history, will be joined by two fourth-year juniors, Kristoffer Max (72.00 average, second-best on the team) and John Paterson (73.55) and a fourth-year sophomore, Adam Matteson (74.17).
CU head coach Roy Edwards isn't worried about the overall youth of his team.
"The freshmen have been leading us all year, so this won't be anything different than what they've been experiencing. I'm not worried about the freshmen being freshmen anymore," Edwards said. "They've been through the fire and have been a key part of our competitions all year, so it won't be something new for them. As for the veterans, John, Kris and Adam have played some great golf in their careers, and they know and need to be a huge part of us this week for us to be successful. All three have been playing really well, and I expect them to in the Pac-12's."
Biwer, who has led the team in stroke average almost from wire-to-wire, is designated as CU's No. 1 player for the meet, the first freshmen in a conference championship since Jeremy Paul in 2014 and Kane Webber in 2000. McDermott is No. 2, marking the first time freshman have been designated 1-2 most likely ever; they are followed by Max, Eisenbeis, Paterson and Matteson. The only other time three freshmen competed in a league meet was in 2014; prior to joining the Pac-12 in 2012, all previous conference events CU competed his featured five players.
The teams will begin play Monday with 36 holes, followed by 18 each on Tuesday and Wednesday at Aldarra Golf Club, located about 20 miles east of Seattle. Edwards hadn't seen it until the team saw it Saturday and practiced on it Sunday. Aldarra will feature a 6,979-yard, par-71 Aldarra Golf Course layout for the championships.
"I know it's (going to be) a really tough golf course, it's in great condition and should be a great challenge," he said. "It's in a beautiful place with really slopey greens, rolling hills, that sort of terrain. It looks like it's going to be a great championship site, but will take a great course management plan and the execution of that plan to play well. There's a great variety holes, for example a couple of short par-3s and a couple of really long ones, so those are always fun to play."
The Pac-12 has long instituted a 6-for 5 scoring format for its title meet, obviously a reward for those schools with greater depth and a challenge for those without it. It's almost always the only time any of the schools see such a format annually. But Edwards has always prepared his team for such a setup.
"We spend all year playing guys as individuals, so everybody one through six in the lineup has had a lot of tournament experience, so we're definitely ready for the 6-for-5 format, he said. "Everyone's played in the (designated scorer) lineup and if not as individuals. It's important for us to have built that depth through the year and I feel good with where we are at with it."
The six certainly have been battle-tested, having played 140 rounds thus season combined, over half by the freshmen (78). But are the Buffs peaking at the right time?
"I definitely think we're playing our best golf," Edwards said. "Other than our Arizona event (Wyoming's Cowboy Classic), we've been playing well the last six weeks, so I think we're going in playing our best golf consistently as a team. Our freshmen have been really good with the four true and with Jack (Hughes, redshirt), am really happy with how they've done as group. They've been a huge part of how we've played this year. I expect a good performance out of the three here at Aldarra."
Ranked No. 89 and 97 in the two major rankings (GolfStat and Golfweek, respectively), the Buffaloes are a longshot to qualify as a team for the NCAA Championships, short of claiming the Pac-12 title. A player or two could possibly make it as individuals, depending on how they play here.
"From a team standpoint, we've got an opportunity to finish the year out strong," Edwards said. "The league is such that there really are good teams from top to bottom, so if we play well, we'll beat some really good teams and be in the mix to win the tournament. We've kind of been in and out of the mix all year for a regional bid, but we knew we had to play well in our last two events and came up a bit short.
"All we can really do is focus on this week and let everything take care of itself from there."
Six teams are ranked among the nation's top 50 by Golfweek, fewer than usual for what has long been referred to as the nation's top collegiate golf conference. Arizona State leads the way (No. 4), followed by Washington (No. 8), Stanford (No. 20), Arizona (No. 32), Oregon (No. 40) and Utah (No. 49). Cal, UCLA and USC are almost always in the top 50, and the Buffaloes crack the top 50 more often than not through their history.
Live scoring will be available at www.golfstat.com.
NOTES: Max and Paterson will graduate on May 5, both with degrees in Business (Finance) ... Biwer (70.59) and McDermott (72.26) at present own the top two averages by freshmen in school history; the established mark is 72.51 by Jeremy Paul for the 2013-14 season. Jack Hughes (73.10) owns the sixth, but he did not qualify for the Pac-12's, while Eisenbeis' 73.75 is ninth on the list ... The first criteria to normally qualify for the NCAA Championships is that a school must own a winning record against Division I competition; the Buffaloes are 85-77-3 including match play results, 83-76-3 otherwise. Thus, the Buffs must finish ninth or higher to finish above .500 for the regular season ... CU's fifth-man scoring average is 77.3, while the fourth-man average is 74.4 going into the Pac-12's; neither are school bests but are among the top five since those numbers have been tracked ... Colorado is 4-9 versus Pac-12 schools this year, having seen all at except the Arizona schools and USC, and is 13-25-1 in rounds Arizona is the defending champion, with eight different schools having won the title over the last 16 events; Oregon State, Washington State and the two 2012 newcomers, CU and Utah, are the only ones without a Pac-12 crown ... The host school has won 16 of the 61 previous championships, USC the last to do so in 2018 when the Trojans had to hold off a charging Buffalo team by four strokes ... Opening pairings are by a random draw (sans the defending champ, which opens in the first groups on No. 1); Colorado is paired with Southern California and UCLA and will tee off on No. 1 from 9:12-10:12 a.m. MDT (Round 1) and from 2:42-3:42 p.m. (Round 2) ... The Pac-12 Network will air highlights daily after the conclusion of play and is covering the event and have a championship special on Thursday (April 28) at 8 p.m. MDT ... The NCAA Championship selections will be announced live on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, May 4 beginning at 2 p.m. MDT (also streamed live on its website) ... Stanford will host the 2023 Pac-12 Championships next April (dates TBA); the site will be its home campus turf, Stanford Golf Course.