Short games lift Washington into hunt at Western

Men's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Cheng Tsung PanWashington  66.95 
2Ollie SchniederjansGA Tech  67.53 
3Lee McCoyGeorgia  68.19 
4Charlie DanielsonIllinois  68.33 
5Hunter StewartVanderbilt  68.42 

Men's Team Rankings »

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1Illinois 68.91 
2Florida State 69.59 
3Oregon 69.67 
4UCLA 69.83 
5LSU 69.90 

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – In the midst of a 36-hole day at Pasatiempo Golf Club, Matt Thurmond saw a short-game demonstration that made time stand still.

“You’re concentrating so hard out there to try and help your guys, and I just stopped,” he said of the sight of players executing difficult wedge shots and getting up and down on an Alister Mackenzie course where slick green complexes are the best defense.

Washington’s 2-over 702 total through 36 holes of the Transamerica/WFG Western Intercollegiate is a testament to their collective short games. That and mental fortitude. After a 12-hour day in nearly ideal conditions, Washington trails only Stanford, which leads the 14-team field at 4-under 696.

“We just enjoyed the walk, really,” Thurmond said.

The Western, the last regular-season event for most teams in the field, features a play-six-count-five format. Players compete in foursomes that include one other team member, which means each squad is spread out over just three groups. It creates prime viewing opportunities for Thurmond and the other coaches.

Washington’s strong start in this event is a sign of progress. The Huskies, ranked No. 13 by Golfweek, have notched eight top-5 finishes so far this season. Of those, four were runners-up. Thurmond has noticed a tendency to start slowly, and he has worked to make his team come out of the gate with more authority. Washington did that on Saturday, keeping pace with a surging Stanford over the final 18 holes.

Senior Trevor Simsby pulled a similar number on the individual leaderboard. He opened with 3-under 67 to Stanford standout Patrick Rodgers' 65. Simsby made up those two strokes over the second 18 holes, and he enters the final round tied for first with Rodgers and Stanford's Cameron Wilson. All three are 6 under.

“Trevor hasn’t really had that huge breakthrough, so people don’t know him as well yet,” Thurmond said.

This season has been Simsby’s time to shine for the Huskies. Chris Williams, who graduated last year after a long stint as the No. 1 world amateur, and Cheng-Tsung Pan, a talented player two years younger than Simsby, often had the spotlight. For Simsby’s talent level – he has won once in college and had nine top-10 finishes – it’s surprising how little attention he’s drawn. Thurmond jokes that Huskies alumni may someday look back at the history books and laugh. Despite his under-the-radar nature, Simsby could very likely outplay them all as a professional.

For Simsby’s part, it’s been a good season leading up to the Western, and as a native of Carlsbad, Calif., he feels comfortable at Pasatiempo. He spent most of the day walking with teammate Jonathan Sanders, reminiscing on fond memories of college golf days gone by.

With his trusty senior leading the way, Thurmond is ready to pair with Stanford and chase them in Sunday’s final round. The Cardinal, ranked No. 6 by Golfweek, surged early in the second round, only to come back within reach of Washington by day’s end.

Stanford head coach Conrad Ray was proud of each player’s contribution to the team total on Saturday. Most notably, freshman Jim Liu shaved nine strokes off an opening 82 to contribute the fifth score in Round 2.

“I’m proud of the way the guys played,” Ray said. “We know there’s a lot of golf left, though.”

There’s more to focus on in Ray’s camp than nostalgia, but it’s undeniably there. Sunday marks Rodgers’ final regular-season event with the Cardinal (he'll turn professional at season's end). Over the past three years, Ray has watched him mature as a person and player, and the two have developed a strong friendship. Rodgers is a frequent topic of conversation in college circles, but as Ray notes, his time with Stanford is not up yet.

“There’s a lot of business to take care of yet before the season is over, and he’s working hard to make sure that goes the way he wants,” Ray said.

That makes Stanford dangerous.

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