Finishing 29 strokes behind a conference rival doesn’t normally make for a successful tournament in college golf.
But in a week that was all about surviving and advancing, the No. 10 USC men’s golf team was happy to do just that.
The Trojans played solid but not spectacular golf on their way to a second place finish at the NCAA West Regional at the Gold Mountain Golf Complex in Bremerton, Wash., and earned a spot in next week’s NCAA championships.
“This was a good week but not that fun,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “It was kind of stressful because the whole season basically comes down to that week. To play well under that kind of pressure shows a lot about these guys.”
Pac-10 champions No. 3 Washington won the regional going away, with three of its players finishing in the top three overall. San Diego, No. 24 Oregon State and No. 12 Illinois also qualified for the next round out of the 13-team regional.
The Trojans got off to a rough start, sitting three strokes out of the fifth and final qualifying spot after a nine over par first round.
“We were a little frustrated that we played poorly,” freshman Sam Smith said. “But we knew there were 36 holes left so there was plenty of time to get back into position.”
Smith, who just secured the fifth spot in the Trojans’ lineup with a strong performance at the Pac-10 championships, paced USC with strong opening rounds of 73-72.
“We felt like Sam carried us the first two days,” Zambri said. “He’s playing the best golf of the year and I think he can even play better.”
USC shot 1 over par as a team in the second round to jump up into a tie for third place. The Trojans saved their best for last, posting a 1 under par final round to clinch their fourth straight trip to the NCAA championships.
“We realized that we had to come in the top five teams and didn’t necessarily have to go out and beat the field by 29 shots like Washington did,” junior Matt Giles said.
The Trojans advanced without any of their players finishing in the top 20 of the towurnament individually. Instead, USC relied on consistent play by all five golfers, posting no rounds lower than 70 and only one higher than 75.
Freshmen T.J. Vogel (74-75-70) and Martin Trainer (75-72-72) led the way for the Trojans, finishing in a tie for 21st at 3 over par.
Smith posted a final round 75 to place in a tie for 24th at 4 over par.
Freshmen grabbed the top three spots for a young USC team that doesn’t have a senior.
“Arguably we have the best freshmen class in the country right now,” Smith said. “We’re showing why with three guys in the lineup each week and we’re steadily improving.”
Giles (77-72-72) and sophomore Steve Lim (75-73-73) tied for 29th at 5 over par.
“I putted really poorly the first day and then actually played okay after that,” Giles said.
USC will be joined at the NCAA championships, which begin Tuesday at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn., by seven other Pac-10 squads.
Zambri said the Trojans were helped by playing against some of the nation’s best teams throughout the season.
“We just had our best finish of the year and it didn’t feel like we played great,” Zambri said. “Then it dawned on me that we played against really great teams all year. Better competition in the Pac-10 makes all these kids better.”