Young SDSU team leads early at Pasatiempo

San Diego State coach Ryan Donovan (right) jokes with his team.

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – San Diego State got to take one of the most coveted statements in college golf away from the 2011-12 season. The Aztecs were one of eight teams to qualify for the NCAA Championship match-play bracket.

In the four years since the new championship format was implemented, never before had an Aztec team made it to match play. San Diego State lost to Cal in the quarterfinals and finished the season No. 14 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. It ended a historic season that included five victories, four of which came consecutively late in the season.

As will happen with college programs, commencement took a heavy hit on head coach Ryan Donovan’s roster. Four senior members of the the San Diego State quarterfinal team moved on at the end of the season. Tom Berry was the sole returner this season.

Last season’s efforts earned Donovan, now in his ninth year leading the Aztecs, serious consideration for National Coach of the Year. This week, give the coach – and his young team – credit for the show they’re putting on early on a 36-hole day at the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate. San Diego State took the lead right out of the gate on Saturday, thanks in large part to five eagles in the first nine holes. At one point in the morning, San Diego State led by nine shots. Stanford, UCLA and USC had begun to close that gap by the lunch hour, however.

“This team has been getting better each week, and we’ve been showing some good signs of it,” Donovan said. “We just haven’t been able to put three rounds together yet, it seems like. I know it’s in them.”

Berry is the only player who has seen this course, and was 17 over for 54 holes last year (T-50) as the team finished seventh. Donovan calls this young group – two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman make up the rest of the team this week in a play-six-count-five format – extremely coachable, which is important at Pasatiempo, where there’s a premium on placement. Donovan said it was a process, but his players finally are buying into playing percentage golf. He has taught them to take as much stress out of the game as possible.

Saturday morning’s events may have eased his stress level a bit, too. Last year’s team shot a combined 71 over at this event, something Donovan didn’t see coming. Then again, that’s Pasatiempo.

“I was a little scared – going, ‘Oh man, I don’t know what to expect,” he said Saturday morning.

San Diego State has only one win this season, and is ranked No. 52 by Golfweek. The Aztecs’ head-to-head record stands at 71-67-1, so a good finish at the Western would put this team on the correct side – and comfortably – of the .500 rule. After they leave Pasatiempo, only one start remains before it’s postseason selection time. The team will try to win its third consecutive Mountain West Championship.

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