From Oregon to aloha

Eric Evans

With at least another month of winter on the horizon, just about anyone would happily pack their bags for Hawaii. The men’s golf team will do just that as they head to Kamuela, Hawaii, for the Mauna Lani Invitational Wednesday, Feb. 3.

It will be Oregon’s first event of the spring season, and the team is anxious for it to finally get started. Only adding to the excitement is the fact that many of the country’s best teams will make an appearance at the tournament, including No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Stanford, according to Golfweek.

“The field in Hawaii is just ridiculously good,” head coach Casey Martin said. “(The tournament) will be a good barometer of where we are, and I think the kids are really excited to go compete. They want to play these great teams.”

Despite the extraordinary depth of the field, expectations are high amongst the players. The Ducks clearly feel they can keep up with elite competition, and they are anxious to prove just that.

“I feel that we enter every tournament going there to win,” sophomore Daniel Miernicki said. “I hope the rest of the teammates feel that way. It’s such a strong field … I think anywhere in the top five and better is going to get us off to a good start to the season, but the ultimate goal is to win every tournament.”

Winning the Mauna Lani Invitational may seem a bit far-fetched for a team that did not place first in a single tournament during the fall. Still, most members said the Ducks did not come close to their potential in the early part of the season.

“We had our moments where we showed what we could do,” Miernicki said. “At California we shot 17-under in the first round. That’s what we expect to do every time, and we didn’t play our best in the fall.”

“We felt like we left a couple of wins on the table,” sophomore Andrew Vijarro said.
Indeed, consistency has become a point of emphasis for Oregon heading into the second half of the season. If play remains steady, the team believes it could have great success in the near future.

“We’ve just got to learn to finish,” Martin said. “I think we will; the guys have been playing well in qualifying this last month, getting ready, and some guys are in good form. If they can keep that going, we should be successful.”

As Miernicki pointed out, the team also experienced some unusual highs and lows in terms of scoring during the fall. That, he stressed, will have to change.

“The ups and downs need to not be so big for us,” Miernicki said. “Our bad rounds need to still be under par, and our good rounds need to be way under par.”

Given the unpredictable wind patterns in Hawaii, there may well be some extreme scores throughout the course of the tournament. As such, the team has placed a heavy emphasis upon wind shots during practices.

“We’ve really been working on it in practice,” Miernicki said. “Just hitting that little punch shot just in case it does get windy there.”

Also playing into Oregon’s hands is the fact that it has some past experience in the tournament. The team played the same course last year and placed fifth overall.

“Last year we played really well,” Vijarro said. “This year we’ve got more experience. We were playing four freshmen and a sophomore last year, so we’re all a year older.”

Even if the Ducks do not win the tournament, the trip should provide extremely valuable experience with the nation’s finest teams.

“It’s good to see where you rank up against those guys and how much work we have to do,” Miernicki said. “Our ultimate goal is to get that number one spot and win the national championship. You’re not going to get there unless you’re playing against the best and learning from the best, so we’re going to go there and evaluate our games and hopefully come away learning a lot.”

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