With the last tee times of the day, the No. 10 USC men’s golf team knew what it had to do in the third round of the NCAA championships.
If it had any hope of making up an eight-stroke, second-round deficit to qualify for the eight-team match play, the Trojans had to go low.
After a bright start to the round during which the team climbed to within three strokes of the final match play spot, the Trojans ultimately fell short, finishing six strokes away from keeping their season alive.
“We had things going for a little while, but it was too little, too late,” junior Matt Giles said.
USC finished in 15th place at 10 over par during a wet week at the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn. Augusta State captured the national title with a 3-1-1 victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday.
“It didn’t feel like anyone on our team played that great,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “But we shouldn’t finish 15th in a field of 30. We should have made a better run at the top eight. Everybody could have found seven strokes somewhere — I know that.”
T.J. Vogel, who was named a freshman All-American, led the Trojans, shooting 1 under par for the week (74-72-69) and finishing in a tie for 25th.
“T.J. had a great 11-hole stretch where he played the golf that I think he is capable of playing,” Zambri said about Vogel’s first 11 holes of the final round, which he played 6 under par. “But even T.J. could have played better than he did.”
Sophomore Steve Lim shot 1 over par (74-72-71) and placed in a tie for 41st.
Giles, a two time All-American, concluded a frustrating season by shooting 4 over par (73-75-72) and tying for 64th.
“It wasn’t a great season for me individually, which is disappointing,” Giles said. “Last year I played well and it would have been nice to replicate that again this year. That would have helped out the team.”
After the final round, Giles announced he will skip his senior season at USC and turn professional.
“I’ve known that Matt was going to do that for almost a year and a half now, so I’m not at all surprised,” Zambri said. “He chips and putts well enough and he has enough length off the tee to play professional golf, but he just kind of got a little lost tee-to-green and he has to figure that out quickly if he wants to go out and make some money against pros.”
Freshman Martin Trainer shot 75-71 in the opening two rounds but struggled on the final day, posting 78 and slipping to a tie for 95th.
“I need to get a better short game, work on my putting a lot,” Trainer said. “That’s what killed me this week.”
Freshman Sam Smith finished in a tie for 111th by shooting 74-75-77.
The Trojans ended the season without a tournament victory, either as a team or individually.
“There was definitely enough talent,” Zambri said. “With Matthew Giles not having a good year for us, that really hurt. We had a returning first-team All-American that just didn’t play that well. Our freshmen were talented but they’re young.”
Giles still noticed the Trojans’ improvement over the season.
“The way we were playing at the start of the year, there was no way we could contend for a national championship,” Giles said. “But by the end, everyone had gotten a little bit better, the freshmen had that experience of playing college golf and our results showed that at the end of the year.”
With four of five starters returning for USC, Zambri said the team should be better next season.
“You move on but you move on with a plan,” Zambri said. “As long as they have a plan to improve and catch up with these kids who are beating us, then we’ll be fine.”
“We can use this as a learning experience,” Trainer added. “Next time we’re in the hunt for a big tournament we can really do damage and maybe someday win a national championship.”