SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – For a while, Washington had a reputation for coming out of nowhere to perform well in the postseason. Head coach Matt Thurmond says that period is over, and the rankings now show that Washington will not enter the Pac-12 Championship at Los Angeles Country Club on April 29 as an outlier team.
“We can’t pull out a miracle when we’re ranked third or fourth or fifth,” Thurmond said. His Huskie squad is ranked No. 7 by Golfweek after the end of the regular season.
Washington’s recent postseason achievements have been plentiful. The Huskies have made it to match play three of the past four years, won the Pac-10 Championship in 2009 and 2010 and won their NCAA Regional in 2010 and 2012. Part of the reason for that success is ample preparation.
Thurmond doesn’t buy into the theory of treating postseason tournaments like any other tournament. Everything his team does in the regular season, especially toward the end of the spring, is in preparation for the Pac-12 tournament and anything that follows. That can mean working on a swing position or a mental approach for a player that won’t necessarily benefit him immediately, but rather down the road when it really counts. Similarly, sometimes Thurmond will schedule rounds on courses that have more to do with preparation for postseason than preparation for the tournament at hand. In short, Thurmond has been able to get past the pull of instant gratification.
“All year you just try to get better and we really build up to postseason because we want our guys to believe that when the time comes, we’re ready for that,” he said.
Thurmond watched his players compete for the last time before postseason at the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate. Behind California’s mind-blowing 10-under 350 in the final round (the tournament format was play six, count five), Washington had the best Sunday score at the wickedly hard, par-70 Alister MacKenzie design. Thurmond’s team put up a final-round 7-over 357. It originally was six shots lower, but changed once Washington reached the airport. Senior Chris Williams discovered the 71 for which he had signed was a stroke too low, and he was disqualified. Washington instead counted a 77 from Trevor Simsby, and dropped from third to fourth. It would have been the team’s fourth consecutive third-place finish this spring.
“I know that it was a really good day and I don’t want that to take too much away, but it was an unfortunate ending to the day,” Thurmond said later.
Despite the scoring error, there were other positives to take home from Pasatiempo. Chief among them, Gerrit Chambers’ play. The junior hadn’t been in the lineup since the Ping/Golfweek Preview in September, but birdied his final three holes at Pasatiempo to shoot a final-round 66. Chambers could play a role in Washington’s Pac-12 title chase – that tournament also is play six, count five.
It goes back to Thurmond’s strategy.
“It’s all about learning and growing and getting better so that we’re at our best those last three tournaments,” Thurmond said. “We’ll regroup and make sure everybody is dialed in and ready to roll.”
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Mississippi State is a team that has flown under the radar for most of the spring season.
The Bulldogs have won three of their last four tournaments – the Tiger Shootout, the BancorpSouth Reunion Intercollegiate and the Old Waverly Collegiate Championship. The other tournament, the Seminole Intercollegiate, resulted in a runner-up finish.
“People are starting to take notice of what kind of team we have,” head coach Clay Homann said when asked if he feels his team is under the radar.
Mississippi State is ranked No. 27 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Robi Calvesbert is the only senior, and leads a group of underclassmen with help from juniors Chad Ramey and Joe Sakulpolphaisan.
With their fourth victory, the Bulldogs tied the program record (set in the 1974-75 season) for most wins in a season. (Mississippi State also won the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate back in October.) The team won a sudden-death playoff at Old Waverley when four out of five players – Ramey, Calvesbert, Axel Boasson and Barrett Edens – made par putts to beat Alabama-Birmingham.
“Anytime you can make history, it gives you something to be proud of,” added Homan.
Mississippi State hasn’t faired too well in recent SEC Championship play, which takes place this week in Sea Island, Ga. Last year the team finished last among 12 teams.
“I think from Day 1, our goal has been to make it to the NCAA Championships, and that is an attainable goal,” Homan said. “If we play the way we can, we will be in contention. We just have to go out and prove it.”
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Two teams will play their maiden SEC Championship this month: Texas A&M and Missouri.
Texas A&M comes in as the No. 22-ranked team by Golfweek. The 2009 NCAA champions are coming off a fifth-place finish at the Aggie Invitational on April 7.
Missouri is coming off a win at its own C.O.G Mizzou Intercollegiate, for its fourth win of the year. The Tigers are No. 37 in the rankings.
According to the Golfweek Rankings, there are six SEC schools ranked higher than the Aggies and 10 above Mizzou. A middle-of-the-pack finish, for both teams, would be a good first showing.