Penn State tees off in the NCAA Regional Monday at Aldarra Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. ranked 49th in the latest Golfstat rankings and seeded ninth of the 14 teams in the regional field.
Those numbers will be rendered meaningless the minute the first tee shot is struck Monday morning a little after 8 a.m. Pacific time. All that matters after that are the numbers on the scorecard. The goal is simple: Finish in the top five in the team standings and the season continues on to the NCAA Championship, which tees off May 26 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
At the 6,855-yard, par-71 Aldarra layout, a Tom Fazio design, the Nittany Lions will be part of a field that includes the No. 1 team in the country, Southern California. But such are the vagaries of golf that the Trojans could do no better than finish tied for third at the Pac-12 Championships, which were shortened from 72 holes to 54 holes by snow at Boulder Country Club in Boulder, Colo. Yeah, snow. At the Pac-12 Championship.
Penn State is coming off a solid tie for fourth at the Big Ten Championship, which was dominated by Illinois. The Fighting Illini, ranked eighth, are seeded second in the regional at the Brick Boilermaker Golf Complex’s Kampen Course in West Lafayette, Ind.
The big question for Penn State, which will go unanswered in this blog post, is the status of sophomore Ryan Dornes, a former Manheim Township standout.
The Nittany Lions were really flying high in March when Dornes and junior Cole Miller, a Northwestern Lehigh product, were two of the three players who shared first place in the individual standings at the Kingsmill Intercollegiate. They led Penn State to a near-miss runnerup finish by a shot to Tennessee in the team standings.
But sometime between the Kingsmill and the Rutherford Intercollegiate hosted by Penn State, Dornes suffered a fractured hand that was said to sideline him for six to eight weeks. Even without Dornes, the Nittany Lions rallied to share the team title at the Rutherford with Georgetown.
It doesn’t seem likely that Dornes would be able to recover in time to tee it up Monday, but we’ll see. And Greg Nye’s team is pretty solid without him.
Miller, who staged a rally to defeat Ryan’s big brother J.D. Dornes for the Pennsylvania Amateur championship at Moselem Springs Golf Club last summer, has really had a breakout spring for the Lions.
Before sharing the title at the Kingsmill with Dornes, Miller fired rounds of 66, 67 and 68 at the Southward Golf Course in Tallahassee, Fla. to capture the individual title at the Seminole Intercollegiate with a 15-under-par 201 and lead the Nittany Lions to the team title.
Sharing second that weekend were host Florida State and Georgia Tech. The Lions will run into the Seminoles again in Sammamish as they are seeded fourth and ranked 24th. Georgia Tech is seeded fourth in the regional at the Stanford Golf Course in Stanford, Calif.
Charles Huntzinger, a sophomore from Duluth, Ga., might be Penn State’s most talented player. A final round of 3-under 67 at Baltimore Country Club’s Five Farms East Course enabled Huntzinger to finish tied for fourth in the Big Ten Championship.
Miller continued his strong spring with a final-round 69 at Five Farms to finish tied for sixth in the Big Ten Championship. Miller tuned up for the NCAA Regional with a solid 3-over 73 at the Country Club of York in a local qualifier for the U.S. Open last week. He didn’t advance to the sectional qualifying, but it couldn’t have hurt to get in a round in a highly competitive environment on a golf course that I’m fairly certain was set up for championship conditions.
If Dornes isn’t healed in time, the rest of the starting lineup will likely be the same five who teed it up for the Lions at Five Farms.
Sophomore JD Hughes was twice a top-10 finisher in the PIAA Class AAA Championship while at Carlisle. He played at Kent State as a freshman in 2013-14 and then disappeared before showing up on the Penn State roster this season.
Hughes was in and out of the starting five when Dornes was still healthy, so with Dornes out, he was the logical choice to fill the void. His final round of 1-under 70 at Penn State’s Blue Course had a lot to do with the Nittany Lions’ surge that caught Georgetown for a share of the team title. He had three solid rounds at Five Farms to finish tied for 35th.
Ryan Davis, a freshman from Berkeley Heights, N.J., has had a fine rookie season. He flashed with a 2-under 69 in the middle round of the Rutherford and finished tied for sixth in the individual standings.
He had a stinker of a second round in the Big Ten Championships with an 83, but bounced back nicely with a final round of 1-over 71. He displayed the kind of attitude you absolutely have to have in a team setting.
Canadian Christian Elliott is the lone senior in a young lineup. But he can play. His 4-under 68 in the opening round of the Seminole had a lot to do with the Nittany Lions’ stunning 15-under 273 start on their way to a victory that had to instill some belief in this team that it could compete with anybody.
Monday is the first day of March Madness for college golf fans. The power conferences are, just as in basketball, well represented.
Southern Cal is joined by fellow Pac-12 power Stanford, featuring Maverick McNealy, the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, as a top seed. And the No. 4 Cardinal will be playing at home on the Stanford Golf Course.
The Southeastern Conference boasts three top seeds, led by No. 2 Vanderbilt, the SEC champion, playing at The Grove in College Grove, Tenn. No. 5 Florida, which dropped a scintillating 3-2 match-play decision to the Commodores in the SEC semifinals, is the top seed at Purdue’s Kampen Course. And No. 6 LSU will be right at home as the top seed at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La.
The other top seed belongs to the Big 12’s Oklahoma State, ranked third. The Cowboys will renew their rivalry with Texas on the Longhorns’ home course, the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin, Texas. No. 16 Texas, seeded third on its home course, edged Oklahoma State by a shot in brutal conditions at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. for the Big 12 team title.
But there are a bunch of champions from small conferences teeing it up as well. And several teams from outside the top five seeds are going to be packing their bags for Sugar Grove, Ill. a couple of weeks. You can count on it.
Sometime in the next 12 to 24 hours Greg Nye and many of his college coaching colleagues will deliver one simple message to their players: Every. Shot. Counts.