Last week four of the top men’s college teams in the country teed it up in the East Lake Cup, an event that is a shortened version of the NCAA Tournament with a stroke-play qualifying round followed by matches.
Illinois, No. 5 in the latest Golfstat rankings, defeated defending national champion Oregon, ranked 20th, 3-2 in the final with No. 10 Texas downing No. 1 Vanderbilt, 4-1, in the third-place match at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Getting some match-play experience is valuable for teams with designs on finishing in the top eight at the NCAA Tournament, which then turns to match play to determine the champion.
This week there was a similar gathering, minus The Golf Channel cameras and announcers, at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif. for the Gifford Championship. The Gifford was a little more golf with eight teams playing two rounds of qualifying and two rounds of matches to determine the matchups for the first-, third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches.
The event was dominated by two of the Pac-12’s powerhouse programs, No. 6 Southern California and No. 7 Stanford with the Trojans pulling out a victory in the final on a tiebreaker after the teams finished deadlocked at 3-3.
It was a particularly strong week for USC’s Rico Hoey, a senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Hoey had rounds of 65 and 67 over the 7,171-yard, par-72 Silverado Resort layout to claim medalist honors in qualifying Monday with a sizzling 12-under 132 total.
Hoey battled Stanford’s Franklin Huang, a junior from Poway, Calif., to a draw in their match in the final, which helped clinch the victory for the Trojans. Southern Cal’s tiebreaker advantage was a 7-6 edge in points won.
That edge came primarily from a 3 and 2 win for Justin Suh, a sophomore from San Jose, Calif., over Isaiah Salinda, a sophomore from San Francisco, and a 4 and 3 victory for Andrew Levitt, a redshirt senior from Ladera Ranch, Calif., over Brandon Wu, a sophomore from Danville, Calif.
The Trojans got another key draw from Cheng Jin, a freshman from China who found himself 5-down after six holes to Jeffrey Swegle, a junior from West Des Moines, Iowa, before Jin battled back to square the match.
Stanford got match wins from Maverick McNealy, a senior from Portola Valley, Calif., and Vincent Badhwar, a senior from Australia.
McNealy, the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and winner of the Haskin Award that goes to the top player in college golf as a sophomore in 2015, defeated Sean Crocker, a junior from Westlake Village, Calif., 3 and 2, in a meeting of two of the best individual collegiate golfers in the country. Badhwar knocked off Jonah Texeira, a junior from Porter Ranch, Calif., 3 and 1.
Southern Cal dominated the team qualifying, posting a pair of 19-under 341 rounds for a 38-under 682 total as five scores from six players counted.
In addition to Hoey’s medalist showing, Texeira had a pair of 67s to finish alone in second place two shots back of Hoey at 10-under 134, Crocker, with rounds of 68 and 71, and Suh, with rounds of 71 and 69, finished tied for 10th at 5-under 139, and Jin, with rounds of 70 and 73, and Levitt, with rounds of 75 and 68, finished tied for 19th at 1-under 143.
Stanford had solid rounds of 353 and 346 to finish second at 21-under 699, a pretty good score in its own right even if the Cardinal finished 17 shots behind their Pac-12 rival.
McNealy finished alone in third with rounds of 67 and 69 for an 8-under 136 total to lead the way for Stanford in the qualifying rounds.
Huang (69-68) finished in a tie for fourth at 7-under 137, Wu (67-69) ended up in a tie for sixth at 6-under 138, Badhwar (74-69) was tied for 18th at 1-under 143, Salinda (74-71) was tied for 25th at 1-over 145 and Swegle (77-71) was tied for 33rd at 4-over 148.
The Pac-12 had three other teams besides USC and Stanford in the top five in qualifying. UCLA, with rounds of 360 and 346, finished third at 14-under at 706, No. 30 Colorado, with rounds of 359 and 349, finished fourth at 12-under 708, and Washington, with rounds of 354 and 362, finished in a tie for fifth at 4-under 716.
The Huskies shared fifth place with the Big 10’s Northwestern, ranked 36th. The Wildcats had rounds of 360 and 356. Northwestern was led by Dylan Wu, a junior from Medford, Ore. who finished in a tie for fourth individually with rounds of 69 and 68 for a 7-under 137 total.
In the first round of matches, Southern Cal defeated Wisconsin, 5-0-1, Stanford edged South Florida, 3-2-1, Northwestern topped Colorado, 3-2-1, and Washington beat UCLA, 4-1-1. Stanford survived partially on the strength of McNealy’s 1-up victory over Claudio Correa, a junior from Chile.
In the second round of matches, USC defeated Northwestern, 4-2, Colorado beat Wisconsin, 4-1-1, Stamford edged Washington, 3-2-1, and UCLA downed South Florida, 4-2.
Northwestern and Washington shared third place as they battled to a 3-3 draw in the third-place match, Colorado gained fifth place with a 4-2 win over UCLA in the fifth-place match, and Wisconsin finished seventh with a 5-1 win over South Florida in the seventh-place match.