Make yourselves at home, Trojans.
The No. 12 USC men’s golf team will tee off today on its first of two tournaments in the span of four weeks at Arizona State’s same Karsten Golf Course.
This weekend’s tournament, the 38th annual Thunderbird Invitational, will feature all of the Pac-10 teams, as well as five squads from other conferences, including No. 9 UNLV.
The Trojans will return to the desert April 26 for the Pac-10 championships.
“It’s an opportunity to play competitive golf on a course we have a real important championship on within one month,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “We’re killing two birds with one stone here.”
USC will also get an opportunity to see where it stacks up against other top Pac-10 teams. No. 2 Stanford, No. 6 Washington, No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Arizona State and No. 15 Oregon are all threats to win the conference title.
The Trojans come into the Thunderbird Invitational on the heels of their best tournament finish of the season. USC placed second in the 16-team field at the Callaway Match Play Championship, losing to New Mexico in the title match.
“We’re confident with the way we’ve been playing in the last few tournaments,” junior Matt Giles said. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on that.”
USC will send out the same five-man lineup for the third consecutive tournament, a sign that Zambri has found the right combination.
“Right now our team looks pretty solid,” Zambri said. “But there’s still time for some guys to get in to the top five that aren’t in there now.”
The Trojans will be led by freshman T.J. Vogel, who was red hot during March. Vogel finished in second place at the USC Collegiate Invitational and the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters before going 3-1 at the match play event.
Sophomore Steve Lim also went 3-1 in match play and has posted three top-15 finishes on the season.
“I’m feeling confident about my game,” Lim said. “The course this week is not that long so there are a lot of opportunities.”
Giles, a two-time All-American, is still searching for the stroke that had him ranked as the No. 1 player in college golf for a long stretch last spring. Giles won two of his matches last week, however, and is feeling better about his play.
“I’m feeling good. Everything is starting to come together nicely,” Giles said.
Freshmen Martin Trainer, who went 3-1 in match play, and Stewart Hagestad, 1-3, round out the starters for USC. Redshirt junior Bo DeHuff will play as an individual.
“The freshmen are learning. They’re stepping up, and we’re ready to win this week,” Lim said.
The tournament begins today with 36 holes of play. The final round is scheduled for Saturday.