Trojans head to Palo Alto for tournament

After failing in its attempt at a third-straight victory, the USC men’s golf team returns to action at the Stanford Intercollegiate today hungry for a win. The squad finished 10th among tough competition earlier this month at the Southern Highland Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas, where No. 1 California claimed an easy victory, defeating second-place Alabama by 13 strokes. Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers took the individual championship after defeating New Mexico’s James Erkenbeck and Alabama’s Cory Whitsett in a playoff.

Senior Sam Smith’s 3-over 219 led the No. 9 Trojans, but his tie for 16th could not match the excellent play of the Golden Bears, who placed four players in the top 11. Fortunately, three teams that finished ahead of USC in Las Vegas are ranked in the top five nationally, while all teams, except host UNLV, ranked in the top 25.

This week’s tournament will provide an excellent opportunity to get back on track after a two-week hiatus. None of the nation’s top-five teams, of which three are Pac-12 rivals, have entered, seemingly opening the door for a USC victory if the team can get by the host Cardinal, ranked No. 10 in the nation. USC head coach Chris Zambri is optimistic about the team’s chances.

“We are excited to get up to Palo Alto,” Zambri said. “We love that golf course, as it fits our style of play really well.”

This was apparent in 2012, when the Trojans finished a close second behind Oregon in the tournament and ahead of Stanford, UCLA and Washington. Zambri, now in his seventh year at the helm of the program, knows the importance of the last few tournaments before Pac-12 playoffs and NCAA regionals and will not overlook this event.

“This is the time of year we need to be at our best,” Zambri said. “These are the most important two months of the season.”

The Trojans have shown great potential at several points this season, picking up consecutive team victories in late February at the Prestige Tournament and North Ranch Intercollegiate. It was also at North Ranch that freshman Yi Keun Chang picked up the team’s only individual victory of the season.

The Trojans will need continued brilliance from Chang, consistent play from sophomore Anthony Paolucci and junior Ramsey Sahyoun and leadership from senior Sam Smith to finish the season strong. Coach Zambri has faith that his players will be able to do just that.

“[Assistant Coach John] Wurzer and I both think the guys are ready to step up,” Zambri said. “The break came at a perfect time for us. Our guys got to slow down and recharge a bit.”

With the ultra-competitive Pac-12 championships only a month away, the team needs to rediscover its late-February form. After this week’s tournament, the Trojans will return to Northern California for the Western Intercollegiate in Santa Cruz, Calif. in mid-April. Later in the month, the squad will battle for first place in the nation’s toughest conference at Los Angeles Country Club. Last year’s third-place result at Pac-12 championships shows that the team has what it takes to meet the challenge.

“I’m really excited,” Paolucci said. “I know we all are ready to test the best teams in the country.”