The No. 3 USC men’s golf team staged a furious rally over the final 27 holes of stroke play to make it into the match play portion of the NCAA Championship, before falling to No. 34 Michigan in the quarterfinals.
The Trojans got off to a rough start at Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio, sitting in a distant 20th when the horn sounded for a rain delay on the second day of stroke play. USC was already playing without former NCAA individual champion Jamie Lovemark, who was out injured with a fractured rib.
“We came back out [from the delay] and we all knew it was going to take some great play to make it into the match play,” senior Tom Glissmeyer said. “So we all stepped up and played some really great golf.”
Glissmeyer led the Trojans by birdieing 11 out of his next 20 holes without a bogey. His final round score of 66 placed him in a tie for third in the individual competition won by N.C. State’s Matt Hill. Sophomore Tim Sluiter and freshman Steve Lim each shot four-under par 32 on their back nines of the second round and senior Ryan Linton made nine birdies over the course of his next three nines to help USC finish in a tie for third in stroke play.
“[The team] had a positive attitude and the most important thing is that they didn’t sulk,” coach Chris Zambri said. “If they would have they wouldn’t have been able to come back and play the match play. It was a real big comeback.”
Eight teams qualified for the match play tournament, making USC’s first round opponent a sixth-seeded Michigan team that spent most of the year outside of the national spotlight. Under the new NCAA format, each of the five Trojan golfers was assigned a Wolverine opponent and the winner of the individual matches gained a point for their team.
Linton used two consecutive birdies on the 12th and 13th to take control of his match with Nick Pumford, winning when he was up three holes with only two to play. Steve Lim only made one birdie but his opponent Bill Rankin made seven bogeys, giving Lim the 4 and 3 victory.
Sluiter and Glissmeyer were unable to replicate their solid stroke play form, however, and lost their respective matches. Sluiter lost five holes in a nine-hole stretch, ending his match in a 5 and 3 loss to Alexander Sitompul. Glissmeyer lost the first hole of his match and was never able to recover, falling 4 and 3 to Matt Thompson.
“[Thompson] played a solid round and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I had to get back into the match,” Glissmeyer said. “It was a frustrating day and I feel like I ran out of holes.”
The match came down to the last group remaining on the course, Michigan’s Lion Kim (ranked No. 98 in the nation) and USC’s Matt Giles (No. 4). Giles made a costly double bogey on 10 and bogeys on 11 and 13, falling three holes behind with five to play.
He birdied 14 and 15 to close the gap to one but Kim’s birdie on the 17th ended USC’s season and dreams of a national championship.
“I’m really shocked I couldn’t get a win out of our top three guys. That’s the real bummer,” Zambri said. “It’s hard to believe. Those guys should be able to get one point for us.”
The Trojans had the higher ranked player in each of the five matches, adding to the disappointment.
“I have nothing but respect for any team that can make it to the top eight but that shouldn’t happen,” Zambri said. “We were in a great side of the bracket and it was like ‘Man, we could have won that thing.’ Even without Jamie, we could have easily won. We just had some guys come out flat in the biggest round of the year and that’s unfortunate.”
Michigan lost in the next round to eventual champion Texas A&M, who defeated Arkansas in a tense final that came down to the last hole.
USC finished the season with two tournament victories and sophomore Matt Giles was named a PING first-team All-American.
The Trojans are losing Glissmeyer to graduation while Lovemark and Sluiter have decided to turn pro. Giles will also test the pro waters at PGA Tour qualifying school after the fall portion of next season.