By Rob Moseley
When the Oregon men’s golf team opens NCAA Regional play on Thursday at Eugene Country Club, the Ducks will navigate a familiar road.
Familiar, but at times only vaguely so, like a road with fresh speed bumps, traffic signals and stop signs.
“It’s impossible to not state the obvious – that it’s a big advantage,” UO coach Casey Martin said of competing in Regionals at a course where the Ducks practice a couple times a week.
That said, Martin added, “we haven’t played this golf course. The rough has been grown out, they’re going to get the greens as fast as they can, the pins are going to be different. We play a golf course that’s designed for the membership. This will be designed for a championship. And it’s a big difference.”
The host Ducks will be joined by 12 other teams and 10 players competing as individuals in the three-day Regional. Play begins Thursday at 8 a.m. at the par-70, 6,990-yard Eugene Country Club, and continues through Saturday.
Oregon is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing the 2013 event by just two strokes. The 2012 tournament was the fourth time in five years the Ducks qualified for NCAAs.
The top five teams at the regional will advance, along with the top individual competing unattached. Oregon is seeded seventh in the regional field, and playing on a familiar course won’t make up the two spots needed to get into the NCAA field.
“There’s not advantage inherent in the golf course to get us through if we don’t play well,” Martin said.
The Ducks have done so this spring, at times. They were third in a 20-team field at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii to open the spring, and won the Wyoming Cowboy Desert Intercollegiate.
But with a young roster lacking a single senior and including just one junior, Oregon has battled consistency issues. The UO men were second at their own Duck Invitational hosted by Emerald Valley before slipping to third on the final day, and they slipped from third to fifth in the final round of The Goodwin at Stanford later that same week in March.
“When we’ve played well this year, we’ve done very well – but we haven’t always played well,” Martin said. “So the challenge for me with the team is to get them to play where they’re capable. And if we do that, I think we’ll have a very good chance to advance.”
Martin returns four veterans from the team that finished eighth at Regionals last season, two strokes out of a playoff to determine the fifth NCAA Championships qualifier from the region. Jonathan Woo, a junior and the only UO upperclassman, played on that team as well as the 2012 NCAA participant, and sophomores Brandon McIver, Sulman Raza and Zach Foushee bring Regionals experience into this week as well.
Martin said any lingering frustration from last season’s close call can only take the Ducks so far.
“Golf’s different,” the coach said. “You want to stay in the moment and focus on every shot. If it’s motivation to practice hard and do the right thing, that’s great. But it’s not going to help you in the golf tournament.”
Rather, Martin wants his guys focused on stringing together consistent strokes, consistent holes and consistent rounds, at the time they most need it.
“It’s been frustrating to me because I know we can do it, but we haven’t always done it,” Martin said. “I haven’t been able to find out exactly why. But we continue to do what we do as a team, and we practice a certain way and we go try to play that way. I’m hopeful it comes together.”