USC fails to qualify for final match play
Itâs not often in college sports that a team gets to return to the scene of its greatest failure for a shot at redemption.
But thatâs exactly the opportunity the No. 17 USC menâs golf team got this week at the NCAA championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
The Trojans placed last in a field of 15 at the same course in September, finishing 70 strokes out of the lead at the Ping/Golfweek Preview.
USCâs performance this week, while much improved, left the team six shots short of qualifying for the match play portion of the tournament and ended its season with a tie for 12th at 31-over-par (303-289-303).
âIt was a super challenging golf course,â USC coach Chris Zambri said. âThey put a huge premium on driving the ball in the fairways. It was something we knew we had to work on throughout the year. We didnât accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, which certainly was to get to the match play.â
No. 8 Augusta State claimed its second straight national championship by defeating in-state rival No. 14 Georgia 3-2 in the match play final. LSUâs John Peterson won the individual title with a 5-under-par week.
The Trojansâ improved play at Karsten Creek demonstrated their growth over the season. After failing to post a top-three finish in the yearâs first six events, USC finished in the top-three in all five of its tournaments leading up the national championship. The Trojans also captured the programâs first Pac-10 team title since 2007.
âWe had that Pac-10 victory and weâve been playing absolutely solid golf for the last three months,â junior Steve Lim said.
Freshman Jeffrey Kang led the Trojans on the week with a tie for 20th individually, posting rounds of 72-73-75 to finish at 4-over-par for the tournament.
âHe did most everything pretty well,â Zambri said. âHe bogeyed the last two holes or he could have had a top-15 finish, which would have been pretty special for a first year kid. But in the end he had a great performance for us.â
Lim, the teamâs most experienced player, recovered from a disappointing opening round 78 to post 72-75 and finish in a tie for 56th at 9-over-par.
âIt was championship time: You have to play well, but I wasnât able to do it,â Lim said. âI actually played quite well the last two rounds. I turned my game around, but a little too late after a bad start.â
Pac-10 individual champion, sophomore Martin Trainer, had posted four straight top-seven finishes coming into the event. He struggled in Oklahoma, however, shooting 75-75-76 and tying for 66th at 10-over-par.
âI didnât really play well the entire tournament to tell you the truth,â Trainer said. âI kind of struggled a lot with my ball striking. It was just a tough, tough course and we really needed to play well to make it and we just didnât get it done.â
Sophomore T.J. Vogel, a freshman All-American a season ago, finished a disappointing year with his worst score of the campaign â a final round 82 that included nine bogeys and two double bogeys. His total of 17-over-par (78-73 in the opening two rounds) earned him a tie for 113th.
âI know heâs going to turn it around,â Zambri said about Vogelâs prospects for next season.
Sophomore Sam Smith was disqualified from individual contention after signing for an incorrect score after his first round. His second round 71 was a big part of USCâs turnaround day, but he could only muster a 77 in the final round.
After the tournament, Zambri and his players decided to focus on the teamâs progress over the last three months and what promises to be an exciting 2011-2012 season.
The incoming freshman â top-ranked junior golfer Anthony Paolucci and Daniel Lee â will add depth to the squad, while the returning Trojans have committed to a strenuous summer schedule of amateur golf events.
âI feel like weâre going to be great next year,â Zambri said. âItâs not just that weâve got five kids coming back that were starters, but some of them are playing the best golf theyâve ever played and really turned a big corner within the last couple months. If you throw in our two incoming freshman, one of which is the No. 1 player in the country, I think weâre going to have a fabulous year.â