After three fall events in which the Oregon men’s golf team showed steady improvement, the Ducks will compete in seven tournaments this winter as they prepare to defend their first NCAA championship in school history.
In the fall, they finished the Nike Collegiate Invitational in fifth place, the Paintbrush Intercollegiate in fourth place and in their final event in November they took second in the East Lake Cup. Despite finishing better in each event they played, the team dropped in the NCAA rankings from N0. 15 to No. 22 heading into the winter season.
“I thought we played decent in the fall,” head coach Casey Martin said. “Nothing spectacular but considering we lost Aaron Wise after his sophomore year and a big hole was left in the lineup, I felt pretty good about it.”
Aaron Wise, the 2016 NCAA Individual national champion, announced after last season that he would be leaving the University of Oregon to pursue a professional golf career. Taking his place on the roster is Wyndham Clark, a redshirt senior transfer from Oklahoma State, who finished the fall schedule as the No. 1 collegiate men’s golfer.
“He is an amazing player and will be counted on heavily this winter and spring,” coach Martin said. “But he is ready for the challenge and I believe he will finish his college career on a high note.”
In addition to Clark, there are five new faces on the roster, including four freshmen who will be looked at to make key contributions to the team. One freshman that could be in line for a significant role this season is Norman Xiong. He comes to the Ducks as the No. 1 California junior golfer of 2016.
“Norman is probably the best recruit I have signed and he has the kind of game that translates well to the college game and beyond,” coach Martin said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him because he is still so young, but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t expect some big things from him.”
The Ducks will have five players returning from last season’s team that won the school’s first ever national championship. One of the goals for Coach Martin during the winter schedule will be establishing who will be in their starting five going forward as the schedule transitions into the Pac-12 Championships in late April and the NCAA Tournament in May.
“I think our biggest challenge will be to handle the pressure and expectations that come from winning a championship,” coach Martin said. “Hopefully the guys don’t feel like they have to do anything special or try to force the issue. They just need to keep getting better, keep pushing themselves, and just focus on execution and not results. If we are able to do that then I know the results will follow.”
The first of seven tournaments in the winter and spring schedule gets underway on Jan. 23 and 24 with the Arizona Intercollegiate.
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter: @zlast3445