USC-hosted event plays into Trojans’ strengths

Playing their only home tournament of the season, the No. 16 USC men’s golf team will host some of the nation’s top teams Monday and Tuesday at the USC Collegiate Invitational at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, Calif.

The Trojans are looking to bounce back from a ninth-place finish at the Mauna Lani Invitational on the Big Island of Hawaii in early February.

“We were frustrated with our play in Hawaii, especially since we had a terrible final round,” freshman Martin Trainer said.

The Trojans have had more than three weeks to hone their games and prepare for their home event since returning to the mainland. The team has played practice rounds at the North Ranch Country Club course the past three Fridays.

“We’re very, very familiar with this golf course as a program,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “Course knowledge helps, so when we get to go to a place where we really know the golf course, we look at it as a big opportunity to get a win.”

USC has won its home tournament four times, with its last victory in 2008.

The Trojans will face stiff competition from the other 13 teams in the tournament. Defending champion Stanford, ranked No. 2 in the nation, comes in as favorites. No. 11 UCLA, No. 13 Arizona State, No. 15 Oregon State, No. 17 Oregon and No. 18 California are the other top 25 teams in the Pac-10-heavy field.

Zambri believes, however, the course plays right into the strengths of his team.

“It’s not a big bash fest where you’re just smashing it all over the place,” Zambri said about the North Ranch course. “You’ve got to play smart golf, you’ve got to stay on the right side of the hole and you’ve got to chip and putt great. I think it really fits their game.”

Zambri made one change to his lineup since Hawaii, inserting freshman T.J. Vogel into the squad for this week in place of fellow freshman Sam Smith.

“T.J.’s a bigger ball striker, and he’s a guy that we really need in the top five,” junior Matt Giles said. “He’s posted a few good scores lately, so we’re excited to have him back in the lineup.”

Giles, a two-time All-American, has struggled to find his top form this season and finished in a tie for 29th in Hawaii.

“I feel like my chipping and putting are pretty good but my ball striking hasn’t been up to the level that I’d like it to be,” Giles said. “I’m trying to get back to basics and just go out and enjoy golf and let things come to me.”

Sophomore Steve Lim and Trainer have been two of USC’s more consistent players this season. Trainer’s tie for 21st in Hawaii was the highest finish of any Trojan that week.

“Chipping and putting are gonna be key, especially at this course with the small and undulating greens,” he said. “They’re gonna be really fast in this tournament.”

Trainer said, although there will be more distractions playing close to home, the Trojans are approaching this event like any other.

“We’re gonna have friends and boosters and supporters there,” Trainer said. “But in the end it’s a tournament just like any other we’re there to win.”

Redshirt junior Bo DeHuff rounds out the lineup for USC this week.

Zambri said the Trojans are going to use their home tournament, which features 36 holes of play Monday and the final round Tuesday, to launch their season into top gear.

“We need to get going this year, and this would be the best time to do it ­— our home course, our home tournament, with some guys that really like the golf course on our team,” Zambri said. “We’re looking forward to a good couple of days.”