Aug 22, 2013; Southampton, NY, USA; Golf clubs sit in a bag during a USA Walker Cup Team practice at The National Golf Links of America. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
After five days, 72 holes of stroke play and a grueling day of quarterfinal and semifinal match play rounds, the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship comes down to five final matches. What began last Saturday with 30 teams and 156 players has been whittled down to two teams — LSU and Southern California — and 10 players still on the course at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.
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Getting to this point wasn’t a cakewalk for either team. The Tuesday afternoon semifinals pitted SEC rivals Georgia versus LSU and Illinois against Southern California. The LSU Tigers will be heading back to the finals for the first time since 1955. The USC Trojans will be heading there for the first time in school history.
"“LSU golf has struggled for awhile,” Coach Chuck Winstead said. “We had John Peterson, Andrew Loupe and some of those guys, but these guys are able to stretch the bar a little further. As they do that they accomplish a little bit more. They should be excited.”"
Now the Tigers are at the forefront of the NCAA golf world. They are fresh off their first SEC Championship in 28 years. Considering that the SEC sent three schools (LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt) to the quarterfinals this season, it was no easy task. They made it to their second consecutive semifinals, where they lost last year. This year, they made sure they did not.
Our five guys can stack up with any five guys in the nation. – Zach Wright
was a big part of that. Wright was chasing the individual championship over the first three days of the tournament. Monday, he stumbled a bit by going 3-over and missing out on his chance to make a final run at
Garnet and Cocky
Wright bounced back and won both of his matches in convincing form. His performance in the semis saw him emerge victorious after just 12 holes.
For USC, getting to the Championship was business as usual. This is the Trojans’ 56th team trip to the national championships and their 9th in a row. They are no stranger to the field, but they are somewhat a stranger to match play. The only time that the Trojans experienced the championship structure with three rounds of match play was in its conceptual season. That year they were bounced in the quarterfinals.
Now they not only made the semis, but won it. Perhaps that is because this year there is a bit of redemption in the air. The Trojans left the 2014 championships in last place, 30th out of the 30 participants. This year they are going for the complete opposite.
"“Rico and I have a chip on our shoulder finishing last last year, I’m sure Coach does, too,” senior Eric Sugimoto said. “It was pretty embarrassing. This is a way for us to get some redemption.”"
It started to look as if the Trojans were overmatched by the highly-ranked Illini after upsetting the No. 2 Commodores earlier in the day on Tuesday. Through the first seven holes, it looked like the No. 4 Illini would make it to the finals after knocking on the door for the past five years. But then Rico took over.
Sophomore Rico Hoey has been their go-to all season. When USC needed a big win, Rico was there. Thus far in the tournament, it has been a group effort. Despite fast starts from Sugimoto and junior Bobby Gojuangco, the Trojans were trailing. Hoey was mired in a fight with Illinois’ Charlie Danielson but he was down, until the 7th hole.
The rain that had damped the earlier part of the round had subsided. Hoey took off his wet hat, and it started the motor. He birdied the par-5 7th and from there didn’t look back.
Now, the Trojans are heading to their first finals in school history. They can be the young, upstart group that finally hangs the banner at USC after 56 other teams have tried to do so.
It all comes down to today. Golf Channel’s providing full coverage of the final round, beginning at 9:30am ET. (If you’re stuck at work you can follow the action live on the NCAA electronic leaderboard.) There’s some rain in the early morning and late afternoon forecast so the course will play a bit soft, but it looks like a good day for some golf at Concession.