Following the school’s first golf national championship in program history, the Ducks have set themselves up to be part of the 30-team field competing for a national championship again in 2017. The title defense begins Friday, May 26 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois.
In what was expected by many to be a rebuilding year for the Ducks, Oregon has instead reloaded this season. This year’s team has just one returning player from last year in sophomore Edwin Yi, but as a team, the Ducks finished first five times and never placed lower than fifth place in any event this season.
Oregon has been led all season by senior Wyndham Clark, who was named 2017 Pac-12 Golfer of the Year, and freshman Norman Xiong, who was named 2017 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Xiong won one event this season, tying with Clark for first place at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate.
A finalist for the Ben Hogan Award, which is given to the nation’s best collegiate golfer, Clark is ready for his team to compete for a national championship.
“I feel good about my game and I think the guys do too,” Clark said. “I’m hoping we can really come together, have a great week and really give ourselves a chance to win.”
After Aaron Wise, last year’s individual national champion, left Oregon early to begin his professional career, Xiong saw an opportunity to join the Ducks a year earlier than expected. During the recruiting process, Xiong hoped to help Oregon win the school’s first ever national championship.
“Wise and the team beat me to it,” Xiong told GoDucks. “Hopefully we can do it again this year. I think that if we all play solid golf, we can be even better than last year.”
In addition to the trio of Clark, Xiong and Yi, sophomore Ryan Gronlund and senior Sulman Raza will round out the team’s starting-five lineup heading to Illinois. Gronlund was named a 2017 All-Pac-12 Second team selection. Raza hit the winning putt last season that clinched the national championship for the Ducks.
The field of 30 teams and six individuals will compete in stroke play from Friday through Sunday. Beginning play on Monday will be the remaining field of 15 teams and nine individual golfers. To start Tuesday play, the top-eight teams will compete in match play in the semifinal and quarterfinal rounds.
The final two teams to that advance will compete in the final championship match play round on Wednesday. The Ducks begin their opening round play on Friday at 11 a.m., with Kent State and Illinois. Day two tees off at 7:40 a.m. on Saturday with the Ducks playing with the same two teams. Start times for day three have yet to be announced.
“The most important days for us will be Sunday and Monday when we try to make the cuts to get into match play,” head coach Casey Martin told GoDucks. “That will be a really fun and important stretch for us and I’m excited to see these guys tackle that.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter: @zlast3445