This weekend marks the final tournaments of the regular season for USC’s men’s and women’s golf teams.
The No. 1 Women of Troy travel to Tempe, Ariz., for the PING/ASU Invitational beginning Friday and they hope to win their fourth consecutive team event.
After opening the spring season with a second-place finish at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, the squad has rattled off wins at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Bruin Wave Invitationals and last week’s SDSU Farms Invitational.
It was at last week’s event that the team turned in its most dominant performance of the season: Junior Sophia Popov won her record-tying fifth individual title, while three other Women of Troy placed in the top five on the way to a 30-stroke team victory.
This weekend’s action is sure to be a tougher challenge for the nation’s top squad. The 17-team field will include host No. 15 ASU, defending NCAA champion No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Arizona, No. 4 Duke, No. 14 Stanford, No. 16 Texas, No. 8 UCLA and No. 10 Washington.
USC head coach Andrea Gaston knows full well the significance of this event.
“This tournament is almost a preview of NCAAs,” Gaston said. “Many of the top-ranked teams will be here competing.”
Fortunately, the team has had success in this tournament in the past — a team win at ASU in 2008 was part of a streak of four straight wins that ended in a national title. Gaston has confidence this team can match that record and compete on a national stage.
“Our team has been working hard to prepare, and we’ve had some great success on this course,” Gaston said. “Hopefully, we’ll put ourselves in position to win.”
Meanwhile, the No. 7 men’s golf team will travel up the coast to Santa Cruz this weekend for the two-day Western Intercollegiate Tournament hosted by San Jose State. Beginning Saturday, the squad will face off with the likes of top-ranked California, No. 4 Washington and No. 9 Stanford at Pasatiempo Golf Course.
The Trojans are coming off two consecutive rough outings by their standards and have not had a top-five finish since their victory at the North Ranch Intercollegiate in late February. Still, the team has vast potential and knows it can compete with the best in the country.
The emergence of senior Sam Smith has been crucial to the Trojans keeping their high ranking. USC’s most experienced golfer has paced the team at their last two events, while younger players have struggled.
If freshman Yi Keun Chang and sophomore Anthony Paolucci can return to their early season form, the team will be in good shape for the upcoming postseason tournaments. Head coach Chris Zambri is confident, but he also knows the challenges of this course.
“Pasatiempo is incredible. The course requires skill in all areas of the game,” Zambri said. “I am looking forward to seeing how the team performs.”
The men will take two weeks off after returning from Santa Cruz to practice for the ultra-tough Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA regionals. Zambri is aware of how a tournament like this weekend’s can prepare his team for the postseason.
“[This weekend] will be a great litmus test for where our team is headed into the postseason,” Zambri said.
Both of this weekend’s tournaments can be followed live at golfstat.com.