Sports

Stanford men take shot at duplicating women's title

 

History can be made next week for the Stanford golf program, but it's up to the Cardinal men to make it happen.

Just two days after the Cardinal women captured their first-ever NCAA title, the Stanford men will return to the same course and begin their quest to do the same.

By now, the No. 8-ranked Stanford men should be familiar with The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., after watching the women navigate the course over the past week.

Stanford opens play Friday, along with 29 other teams. Weather conditions should be slightly improved over the lightning and rain that caused multiple delays during the women's championships.

The weather report calls for partly cloudy skies, clearing by Saturday, with temperatures expected to reach into the 90s. The chance of rain rises to 60 percent beginning Sunday and continuing into Wednesday.

"That's the nature of South Florida, it's always unpredictable," Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. "We dealt with weather last year. You have to be ready for anything."

The Cardinal finished last year's tournament first in stroke play and third in match play.

Cameron Wilson won medalist honors. Patrick Rodgers, who finished second at the PGA Wells Fargo Championship earlier in May, also was on the team.

Freshmen Jeffrey Swegle, the Midwest junior champion two years ago, and Franklin Huang, last year's champ at the California State Amateur, have filled the roster spots of the departed Wilson and Rodgers.

Sophomore Maverick McNealy, with junior David Boote and sophomore Viraat Badhwar, have helped fill the leadership role.

McNealy, currently the top-ranked collegiate golfer in the nation, has won six titles so far, tying with Rodgers for second-best in a season in Stanford history, behind only Tiger Woods' seven titles.

The Pac-12 Player of the Year, McNealy is also a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's top collegian.

"It's hard to believe that he's putting together one of the best seasons all-time in program history," Ray said. "His stroke average is the lowest. That's pretty rarified air. It comes down to his work ethic and tenacity."

McNealy, Boote and Badhwar learned from Rodgers and Wilson, and are passing that knowledge along to Swegle and Huang.

"We have a strong, deep team," Ray said. "Depth is the key. I don't think we talk about that enough. The teams that win titles are winning at the five, six, seven slots. We try to develop that. Franklin and Jeff have come into their own this year."

Huang finished 11th overall to help Stanford win the Pac-12 title by 14 strokes over Oregon and then finished in a tie for 18th, with Badhwar, to help the Cardinal finish second at the Chapel Hill Regional. Swegle has been among the top 25 in three tournaments.

"Franklin is solid," Ray said. "He hits it straight and keeps fighting."

Stanford was the only team that traveled outside of its time zone to compete in the regional, which also included top-ranked Florida State.

Traveling to the Eastern Time zone again should not present any problem. The Cardinal already has been to Georgia, Mexico, Illinois and Texas for tournaments.

Stepping onto an unknown course should be made easier because of preparation; and watching the women's tournament play out on the Golf Channel.

"You can watch the women and see how they deal with tough lies," Ray said. "You can study the yardage book and talk to people about the course. When we get there, it should not feel like the first time. We learn as much as we can before we even get there."

Among the top five golfers, each has finished at least as high as 12th in a tournament and has combined for 17 top-10 finishes.

"They are quietly getting better," Ray said. "This team is capable. The culture of hard work is the best way. There are not a lot of redundant things. They study the game. It sets up our guys for success."

Golf, as much as any other sport, is about playing defense.

"It's just as much about managing a bad shot and your emotions, Ray said. "I rarely worry about offense."

The tournament consists of four rounds of stroke play; with the top eight seeds advancing into match play. The overall individual champion is also determined through stroke play.

Stanford is one of six Pac-12 teams that qualified for the championships along with Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, USC and Washington. The Bruins, led by Atherton resident Jonathan Garrick, were eighth at the Pac-12 tournament and fourth in the Noblesville Regional. The Ducks finished fifth and Colorado's David Oraee qualified as an individual.

Arizona State, third at Pac-12s, finished second at the Rancho Santa Fe Regional, while USC and Washington, fourth and fifth at Pac-12s respectively, were third and fifth at the Bremerton Regional.

The Golf Channel will televise the final round of stroke play and all three rounds of match play. Stanford grad and PGA Tour veteran Notah Begay III will serve as the on-course reporter.

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