Men’s golf looks to bounce back from tough season opener

Senior Leon D’Souza struggled in last week’s season-opening tournament in Westlake. D’Souza finished the tournament tied for 48th at 18 over par. (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

On Tuesday, USC’s men’s golf team made the trip to Kamuela, Hawaii to play in the Amer Ari Invitational. The Tournament runs through Thursday and is being played at the Hapuna Golf Club. USC is one of seven teams from outside of Hawaii to compete in the tournament this year. 

USC placed 12th out of 20 teams in last year’s Amer Ari Invitational, finishing at 3-under par. Pepperdine won at 39-under par. This will be the Trojans’ second tournament of the season after placing sixth at 36-over 900 in the Southwest Invitational in Westlake Village, Calif., last week. 

Junior Cameron Henry finished 16th at 6-over 222 in last week’s season opener, while senior Kaito Onishi tied for 20th at 8-over 224. Freshman Shane Ffrench showed promise in his collegiate debut and finished tied for first after the first round at 2-under. Ffrench struggled in tough wind conditions, falling to even par on day two and finishing the tournament tied for 26th at 10-over 226. Senior Leon D’Souza also struggled with these conditions tying for 48th at 18-over 234. Sophomore Tyler Guo tied for 60th at 22-over 238. 

Some of the biggest struggles for first-year head coach J.T. Higgins’ team in Westlake were putting and managing its par-5s. 

“We didn’t putt very well… [we had] too many three-putts,” Higgins said in an interview with Daily Trojan. “At home we have been amazing on the par-5s and we played those really poorly.”  

Higgins joined USC this offseason from Texas A&M where he led the men’s golf team to an NCAA championship and 17 NCAA tournament appearances in 19 years. 

Some rust was expected as the Southwest Invitational was the first tournament in almost a year for USC after their Spring and Fall 2020 seasons were cancelled due to coronavirus. The fall season usually provides an important opportunity for practice and tournament play for both new and returning players. 

“I think most of the guys didn’t have tournaments for a long time so I feel like for the next event we will feel more comfortable under the pressure,” Onishi said. “But I think the team is in great shape.” 

This week Higgins and company will get another chance to meet their target scores. USC will face many of the same teams they did last week, such as Arizona State and Pepperdine, both of which finished above USC in second and fifth place, respectively. The Trojans will also face Georgia Tech, which finished only two shots behind USC in Westlake. 

Higgins and USC hope to remain competitive through the end of this tournament against these teams and show their capabilities.

“Pepperdine and Arizona State are two of the best teams in the country and we played them this week,” Higgins said. “They were much better than us this week, so we are gonna play a lot better to compete with them.” 

Other Pac-12 schools are competing in Hawaii as well, such as Washington and Oregon State. The tournament presents a competitive field, but the Trojans feel confident in their abilities. 

“I feel like our best is as good as anyone’s best,” Henry said. “So if the whole team plays together, I feel like we can compete at the highest level with the best teams in the Pac-12 and in the country, so I feel optimistic about our team.” 

Coach Higgins feels the team can do a better job at managing their emotions and keeping composure. He feels this will come as the team gets into the flow of playing competitive golf again. 

“I think just staying patient is important,” Henry said. “I know some guys on the team can get flustered over a bad shot or a bad break, but you can’t waste your energy over something that you can’t control.”