Sugar Grove Regional: Cal bounces back
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Team leader: Alabama-Birmingham (8-over 584)
Individual leader: Brian Campbell, Illinois (5-under 139)
In position: 2. Illinois (585), 3. Clemson (591), 4. California (593), 5. USC (594), 6. Purdue (597).
Chasing: T-7. Jacksonville State (608), T-7. Kent State (608).
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In five of the six regionals, the top seed had the lead after the first 18 holes. California was the lone No. 1 seed that was not leading after Round 1. The Golden Bears opened with a 17-over 305 on the very demanding Rich Harvest Farms Golf Course in Sugar Grove, Ill., that put them in seventh place.
For the second day in a row, cool weather and even snow greeted teams in the morning. It caused more than a two-hour delay on Friday. Those conditions played a role in sidelining California coach Steve Desimone in Round 2. Desimone remained in his hotel room for the entire day with a cold that first showed symptoms two days earlier.
“When your eyes are hurting and your teeth are hurting, you know you are not doing well,” said Desimone, who guarantees to be at the course for the final round.
During the opening round, California had to battle back from deep on the scoreboard after nine holes just to get within three shots of the cut line. The top 5 teams will advance to Prairie Dunes to compete for the national championship.
“After nine holes we were fighting an uphill battle, but we steadied ourselves on the back during the first round,” said California assistant coach Walter Chun.
No need to panic. Water finds its level, right? And Desimone was hoping that would be the case with 36 holes to play.
“We had a good chat last night,” Desimone said. “Every one of these regionals I have been involved with, except the last two when we won comfortably, have been a fight. Whether we did or did not advance. I told them if they wanted this they were going to have to fight like they might not have ever fought before.”
Led by Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter on Friday, the Golden Bears fought the conditions to move up to solo fourth by the end of Round 2. Hagy, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, posted an even-par 72 while Stalter turned in a 1-under 71.
The duo is part of a group of eight players tied for second place individually. Michael Weaver also bounced back with a 72 after an 80 in the first round and Shotaro Ban recorded a 73 in the second round.
Desimone and Chun were pleased with how their team responded in Round 2, but Desimone pointed out this has been a challenge for his team.
“Two of the toughest back-to-back days of golf this program has ever had,” he said. “We had snow on the driving range, rain, winds – it’s not often you hear a golf tourney being delayed because of cold.”
With the other top seeds in a comfortable position to advance, California has unfinished business at the next stop. A year ago, California won 11 of 14 starts and lost in the match-play semifinals to Illinois. This year, California has won six times and is a team that gets mentioned among this year’s likely contenders.
California has drawn a lot of attention the past two years, which made the Golden Bears the subject of tee-box small talk on Friday. In all, California has won 17 of its 26 starts in the past two seasons, but all that means nothing this week in regional play. On Saturday, a top-5 finish will be considered a win in college golf.
“This is a proud group,” Desimone said. “We have had a lot of success and that comes from heart and the character it takes to be a champion and we are going to have to show all of that tomorrow.”
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Purdue last competed in the NCAA Championship in 2005, but the team has a chance to end that streak tomorrow. The Boilermakers are in solo sixth, just three shots behind fifth-place USC.
Despite being the No. 7 seed, the Boilermakers felt a little better about their regional assignment considering the Purdue campus is located in West Lafayette, Ind. – only 162 miles from Sugar Grove, Ill.
“This is a great spot for us,” Purdue coach Rob Bradley said. “We are used to this type of golf course and grass and we felt like if we played our best, we could compete to win the regional even though we are a seven seed.”
Bradley, who was an assistant coach for last year’s national championship-winning Alabama team, only talked about winning after the second round. And that was by design.
“We came here playing to win, but not playing reckless,” said Bradley, who mentioned his team is only 13 strokes behind leader Illinois. He never mentioned being just three shots out of fifth.
The Boilers also have a little momentum coming into regional play with three players – Adam Schenk, Austin Eoff and Philippe Schweizer – advancing out of U.S. Open Qualifying on Monday.
Bradley said his team intends to stick to the game plan on a demanding Rich Harvest Golf Course: “When you do make a mistake, get back into position and make bogey at the worst. We have done an OK job with that. Not a great job.”
If Purdue can do a great job with that in the final round, it just might finish inside the top 5 and snap that eight-year streak of not playing in the finals.
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The Sugar Grove regional continues to be the toughest in terms of scoring. The scoring average in Round 2 was better than in the first round, but still checked in at 76.77, bringing the tournament average to 77.42 … If it comes down to the final hole, don’t plan on making up much ground on the 454-yard, par-5 18th hole at Rich Harvest Farms. It has played as the toughest hole on the golf course at .75 strokes over par … So far, seeding has been accurate in Sugar Grove. The only top-5 seed outside the top five after 36 holes is No. 5 UNLV. Clemson, the No. 6 seed, is in third place.