Some top seeds make long journeys to NCAA men's golf regionals

California's K.K. Limbhasut Cal Athletics

Some top seeds make long journeys to NCAA men's golf regionals

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Some top seeds make long journeys to NCAA men's golf regionals

Earlier this spring Cal ­coach Walter Chun didn’t know if his assistant coach, Eric Mina, was going to be able to travel with the team to its NCAA regional if the Bears were sent somewhere other than Stockton, Calif. The competition dates for regionals are May 14-16, and Mina’s wife, Mariesah, was expected to give birth to a baby boy on May 17.

This week the Minas welcomed their newborn son, meaning Mina will be with the team at regionals. However, Cal won’t be staying in the Golden State. Instead, the No. 2-seeded Bears will head east – well east – to the Raleigh (N.C.) Regional.

“Honestly, I was surprised at first,” Chun said. “But as it’s soaked in, I’m excited to go. Anytime we can spend more time together as a team, whether it’s on the flight or an extra day, I think it’s good for team chemistry, and anytime we can compete outside of our comfort zone, it’s good for us as a team to develop.”

More regionals mean more travel

Since the NCAA switched to six regionals for men’s golf in 2009, there have been several instances where high seeds traveling long distances have failed to advance. In 2011, fourth-seeded Oregon traveled to Ocala, Fla., and failed to earn an NCAA Championship berth. A year later, second-seeded UNLV didn’t make it out of Greensboro, N.C. In 2013, two No. 2 seeds, Duke and Stanford, made trips to Arizona and Ohio, respectively, and missed. And in 2016, fourth-seeded Washington didn’t advance out of Franklin, Tenn.

Then last year, for the first time in regional history, a No. 1 seed failed to advance to the NCAA Championship. Florida finished eighth in West Lafayette, Ind.

This year there are a handful of top seeds playing a noticeable distance away from home. Aside from Cal, the fifth-ranked team in the country, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Alabama are headed to Stockton as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. Also, top overall seed Oklahoma State has to go to Columbus, Ohio, because Nos. 3 and 4 in the country, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, are hosting regionals.

While these schools didn’t benefit from the NCAA’s S-curve selection process, they all possess the confidence that they’ll make it through regionals no matter where they play.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, you just have to pay well,” said Alabama head coach Jay Seawell, who said his team will head to California a couple of days early to prepare. “Our guys are really positive about it. We’ve had a good year and we got sent to the place where we belong, and now we have to go out and play some good golf.”

Alabama heavy with experience

Alabama is led by junior Davis Riley and senior Lee Hodges, and senior Jonathan Hardee has stepped up as a viable third option to go along with the Tide’s talented freshmen duo, Davis Shore and Wilson Furr. The Tide won four times this season, all in southern states, and was second at Olympia Fields.

The Tigers are also solid from top to bottom, as they have played the same five guys all season with each player boasting a sub-73 scoring average. (Luis Gagne leads the way at 71.24.) LSU won four times this season, as well, including in Hawaii. The Tigers also made a trip to PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., and finished fourth.

“While the golf course will be different and the grasses will be different (The Reserve at Spanos Park has bentgrass greens), at least you’ve headed that way before,” LSU coach Chuck Winstead said. “We got some momentum at end of season … and still feel like we have more in the tank.”

Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton knew his team likely would end up at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course, and he’s glad. The course is typically one of the toughest tests in college golf, and the Cowboys, who won nine times this season and have three golfers – Viktor Hovland, Matt Wolff and Zach Bauchou – on the Haskins Award Watch List, relish tough tests and courses that separate the field.

“We’re excited,” Bratton said. “I really love the Scarlet Course. It’s a good test of golf. Obviously they’ve hosted championships for a long, long time. I’ve played in championships there. I’ve coached in championships there. Oklahoma State has been there before. So there will be good karma for Oklahoma State there.”

Cal Bears migrate across nation

Cal arguably has the toughest task as it will travel three time zones east, but the Bears also have arguably one of the best players in college golf, junior Collin Morikawa, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. And Cal won an event in Florida last fall, the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational, so they can travel well.

“I’m excited to show those ACC schools what we can do,” Chun said. “I know the Pac-12 is a little ‘down’ this year, but I think us and Arizona State (which is also in the Raleigh Regional field), we’re out to prove something.” Gwk

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