After finishing the first day of the Arizona Intercollegiate with a two-stroke lead, the USC men’s golf team struggled mightily yesterday and fell to fourth place in the final standings. The No. 22 Trojans’ best mark was a 4-over 75 from senior Jeffrey Kang, just a day after the team recorded four individual scores of 70 or below. Only last-place finisher George Washington finished below the Trojans on yesterday’s leaderboard.
USC’s struggles allowed No. 3 California to recover from a tournament-worst 3-over to claim first place, while host Arizona and No. 16 New Mexico also leapfrogged the Trojans during the final round. New Mexico State and Brigham Young tied for fifth.
The Trojans appeared as if they would compete for the title after a strong performance on the front nine, but failed to keep up that pace over the second half of the day at Sewallo Golf Course in Tucson, Ariz. Head coach Chris Zambri was not pleased by the day’s results.
“It was a very disheartening day,” the 8th-year coach said. “The course played quite difficult.”
After leading the individual race for nearly all of Monday’s 36 holes, junior Anthony Paolucci’s team-worst 8-over 79 forced him into a fifth-place tie with New Mexico’s Sam Saunders and New Mexico State’s Pat Beyhan. Though not good enough to earn his first collegiate victory, Paolucci’s overall 1-over still ranked as the Trojans’ top score.
Kang finished tied for 12th, while freshman Rico Hoey slid to 23rd place after a 7-over 78. Hoey appeared to be headed in the right direction after a 1-under performance in Monday’s second round, but could not build on that strong effort. The highly touted Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native earned the team’s No. 1 seed with a win in the Gifford Collegiate this fall, finishing just ahead of teammate Paolucci.
Junior Eric Sugimoto, the Trojans’ No. 3 seed coming into the tournament, did not qualify after disappointing scores of 9-over and 10-over in the first and third rounds. The transfer from Pacific did show the brilliance that made him a 2013 Big West conference medalist with a strong 1-under second round.
Paolucci extended his lead over Cal’s Brandon Hagy over the first nine holes, but mirrored his team by fading as the day went on. Hagy went on to share the individual championship with teammate Joel Stalter, who led all players on the day with a 4-under 67. Arizona’s Kolton Lapa and BYU’s Justin Keiley finished a stroke behind at 1-under.
Zambri admitted that his team’s preparation for the final round could have been better.
“Perhaps we came out tight because we had the lead,” Zambri said. “This is not the type of course you want to play if you are mentally tight.”
The Trojans now have a few weeks off before the Amer Ari tournament in Hawaii starting Feb. 6, which will feature Pac-12 rivals No. 9 Stanford and No. 16 UCLA. The team then heads to the Prestige Tournament at PGA West in Indian Hills, Calif., beginning Feb. 17.
Even with such a disappointing result to begin the spring season, Zambri is confident that strong veterans such as Paolucci can gel with skilled newcomers such as Hoey and Sugimoto.
“We will pick ourselves up,” Zambri said. “We have a ton of golf left this semester.”