While going through the recruiting process in 2011, Sulman Raza asked Oregon men’s golf head coach Casey Martin about taking a redshirt year during college to focus on academics.
Raza intended to major in architecture – a five-year program. Martin and Raza decided that, during the 2014-15 season, Raza would redshirt while continuing to work on golf. According to Raza, the redshirt year was needed, not only to focus on school but also to improve on his previous two years at Oregon.
“My golf game was not that great,” Raza said. “At the time, I couldn’t break 75. I’d lost some weight and wasn’t working out much in the summer, so I just thought it would be a good opportunity to get my game together and work on a few parts that weren’t so sharp, which were putting, ball-striking and definitely lifting.”
Now a redshirt junior, Raza has emerged as one of Oregon’s most reliable players. On March 9, in the Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, Raza finished tied for third despite the Ducks 10th place team finish. Thirteen days later, Raza won the Northwest Classic at the Willamette Country Club in Canby, Oregon, beating out teammates Nigel Lett and Aaron Wise. It was the first individual win of Raza’s college career.
“Sulman struggled a tad and then popped out of it in Vegas,” Martin said. “To get his first win was huge. He’s done some really good things.”
Raza is the first to acknowledge that he can be too hard on himself after hitting a bad shot. This was particularly true when he played in tough conditions.
“The key for me when I played was just staying really patient out there because I’d struggled in the past with staying patient when elements got in the way,” he said.
Raza’s patience paid off. Strong winds at the Southern Highlands Golf Club hampered the Ducks. No one besides Raza finished higher than 27th.
Wet conditions persisted throughout the Northwest Classic, including a suspension of play during the first round. But, Raza kept his calm, winning the tournament by four strokes (-10).
“Any time you can get a win you’re going to gain so much confidence from it,” said Wise, who has won four tournaments in his two years at Oregon. “Sulman is playing well.”
If Raza continues his run and the Ducks advance to the NCAA championships in May, it could be Raza’s homecoming. Raza, who attended South Eugene High School before joining the Ducks, recognizes the significance of playing for an NCAA title in his hometown, but doesn’t want to put any added pressure on himself or the team.
“Maybe there will be more of that for me since I’m the hometown kid,” Raza said, “but I have to forget, again, a lot of that – take it as another tournament and just enjoy the moment.”
Looking back on last year’s redshirt season, Raza believes it had a sizable impact on where his game is currently.
“Especially mentally, I think I did a lot of reflecting through my last few years when I was redshirting to become a better player,” he said.
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner