DALY CITY, Calif. – Arizona State golf fans could possibly compare this season to riding a roller coaster for the first time: You just don’t know what’s coming next. The year has been full of ups and downs with expectations. Today’s ride at the NCAA West Regional was certainly a thrilling one – on the positive side – for all Sun Devils.
Led by Jesper Kennegard’s 6-under 66 and Knut Borsheim’s (pictured) 69, Arizona State took the early lead at Lake Merced Golf Club. The top five teams will advance to the NCAA Championship May 26-30 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
The Sun Devils finished at 9-under 279 to pace the 13-team field. New Mexico, the No. 7 seed, was one shot back after a 280 total. Texas A&M was third at 281, followed by Oregon at 282. The No. 1 seed Southern California was fifth at 285.
With a very talented and youthful squad, expectations have been high surrounding the Sun Devils. Playing just two events during the fall season with a pair of sixth-place showings at the Olympia Fields/Illini Invitational and the Ping/Golfweek Preview, the Sun Devils ended the fall with both promise and questions.
“I have ben waiting all year and it’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would,” Arizona State coach Randy Lein said. “It’s a talented group.”
March was not a good month for the Sun Devils. Arizona State finished 16th at the Fresno St. Lexus Golf Classic, 10th at the Southern Highlands Collegiate and in the middle of the pack at the Callaway Match Play Championship.
“We went to Fresno and just played horrible,” said freshman Chan Kim, who shot 71 Thursday. “We expected to win in Fresno and we kind of lost our confidence.”
A team meeting may have turned the Sun Devil ride around.
April was much better. The Sun Devils won at home – the ASU Thunderbird Invitational – and followed with third-place showings at U.S. Intercollegiate and Pac-10 Conference Championship.
“Our home tournament really boosted our confidence, and now we are just on a roll,” Chan said.
For Sun Devils followers, it’s hopefully a roll that now does not involve too many twists and turns.
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One team that might be struggling in the confidence department is top-seeded Southern California. The Trojans have a ninth- and eighth-place finish in two of their last three starts.
But sophomore Matt Giles kept the Trojans from a disastrous opening round.
“He just played great. He was a horse and we needed it,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “He kept us in the game big time.”
Giles, who is ranked No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, finished with the individual lead posting a 7-under 65. Giles stood at 8 under in the 18th fairway, a par-5 measuring 556 yards. His second shot went out-of-bounds resulting in a closing bogey.
“The key for me is driving the ball really well,” Giles said. “I hit driver on every hole and never really got out of position.”
Jamie Lovemark and Tim Sluiter did not fare as well. Sluiter, who struggled with his putting, shot 77. Lovemark, the 2007 NCAA champion, was bothered by an injury. According to Zambri, Lovemark, who missed two spring events with a broken finger, pulled a muscle in his rib cage last week when the team was practicing.
“He is hurting big time,” Zambri said. “He will hang tough. He’s a tough kid and we need him, even if it means he shots 73.”
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The jury may be out on whether or not people are in favor of the old three-regional format or the new six-regional design. But, one thing is for sure, the pace of play here at the west Regional was noticed.
“Incredible,” New Mexico coach Glen Millican said.
Not one group exceeded 4 hours, 45 minutes in Round 1.
“The pace of play was much better and the practice round pace of play was fantastic,” Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins said.
The format has far fewer teams on the golf course. Thirteen teams are in the West and 14 are at some of the other sites.
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Four teams are playing host and participating in this year’s regional tournaments.
Columbia in the Northeast, UCF in the Southeast, Oklahoma State in the South Central, Texas in the Southwest and San Francisco in the West.
The Dons, winners of the WCC Championship, opened with a 3-over 291 and is six shots behind fifth-place USC.
Despite being the No. 13 seed and playing in the postseason for the first time since 1991, head coach Gary Nelson feels his team is ready for the challenge.
“Nobody is going to be particularly happy with what they did, but we haven’t shot ourselves in the foot,” Nelson said. “We know what we were doing and it kind of shows today, and I think it will show more tomorrow.”