Youth movement has Stanford men in hunt
Two freshmen among starting lineup as Cardinal seeks to qualify this weekend for NCAA championships
Freshmen golfers have been making an impact for men's college programs across the country and Stanford has three of them making strides and helping the Cardinal earn a No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional, which got underway Thursday on the Stanford Golf Course.
Patrick Rodgers is the star of the class. He's won a pair of tournaments, including the first one in which he competed as a college player, and has finished among the top 10 in eight of the 10 events in which he has participated.
Rodgers, a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award for the nation's top college golfer, averages 71.6 per round, a score that would keep him in contention in most tournaments.
Menlo School grad Patrick Grimes has also been impressive in his first season with Stanford, averaging 75.2 a round and recording one top-10 finish in the seven events he's played.
"Grimes is our No. 4 golfer," Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. "He qualified into that spot. He's done a good job this year."
Freshman Marcel Puyat also has been effective for the Cardinal. He has a third-place finish to his credit and averages 74.2 per round.
Rodgers came to Stanford as a highly regarded junior golfer and has not disappointed. He was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
"He's mature beyond his years," Ray said. "He's physically tall and has speed in his swing. He hits it in the air and has touch on the green. He's a cool customer and he doesn't show emotion."
The top five teams out of the Stanford Regional advance to the NCAA Championships, which begin May 29 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
The field, though, is loaded. Pac-12 champion California is the tournament's top seed and No. 3 San Diego State, No. 4 Central Florida and No. 5 LSU are all top-flight programs. Alabama-Birmingham, Wichita State, Tennessee, Oregon State, Southeastern Louisiana, USF, San Jose State and UC Davis are also competing.
"Any time you can see world class amateur players on a classic, traditional course in tip top shape it's worth coming out," Ray said. "There are strong teams, strong players and any golf afficionado would appreciate the field."
Stanford finished sixth at the Pac-12 championships, though Cardinal junior Andrew Yun won the individual conference title. It's one of the toughest conferences in the country, with six of its teams ranked among the nation's top 13.
USC, which features Gunn High grad Martin Trainer, and Oregon are the top two seeds in the NCAA Regional at Michigan, UCLA is the top seed at Bowling Green and Washington is the third seed in Norman (Okla.), where Arizona is seeded 11th.
"We have to feel fortunate there aren't more Pac-12 teams here," Ray said. "The seeding does speak to the strength of the conference. There's also San Diego State and Central Florida, both of whom have had good years."
With the quality of freshmen golfers and the conference medalist in Yun, Stanford has to feel good about its chances moving forward. Yun leads the team with his 71.5 scoring average and has six top-10 finishes in 10 events.
Add sophomore Cameron Wilson and senior David Chung and the Cardinal has the potential to win a national title. Wilson has a 72.5 stroke average and three top-10 finishes.
Chung has enjoyed better seasons but he's certainly capable of stepping up big for Stanford. He was the team's top golfer at last year's NCAA Central Regional with an even-par 213 and was a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan Award as a sophomore.
Chung has played at the U.S. Open, the Masters and has reached the finals of the U.S. Men's Amateur Championships and has been a member of the Palmer Cup team.
Chung brought a career 72.9 stroke average into the year. He's fallen off slightly to 74.2 this season but still brings quality credentials to the tee.
"We feel good about our depth," Ray said. "We have worked hard to develop a team that peaks at the end of the year."
Should the need arise, Ray can also call upon senior Wilson Bowen, junior Steve Kearney, redshirt sophomore Andre DeDecker or sophomore Shane Lebrow, each of whom have delivered solid performances during the year.
The tournament concludes Saturday.