From the moment Oregon won the bid to host the 2016 NCAA Championships for men’s and women’s golf at the Eugene Country Club, there was inherent pressure surrounding the team to play well this season.
“Any time you have a big carrot in front of you, there’s going to be more pressure,” men’s golf head coach Casey Martin said Monday. “But it’s a good kind of pressure. It’s motivating and it’s galvanized a lot of the guys.”
The Ducks are still not guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Championships.Martin put in the 2016 bid believing it would present his team an opportunity to contend for its first championship in program history. But also for Martin, a Eugene native, the bid offered a chance to showcase the course he was raised on.
“Growing up in Eugene and this golf course, it’s been a love affair with me,” Martin said. “I’ve spent my entire life out here. It’s a big part of wanting to give back and share a special place that a lot of people aren’t familiar with.”
After hosting one of six NCAA regionals during the 2014 postseason, Martin was encouraged by NCAA officials to bid for the 2016 championship. Once Martin received approval from Eugene Country Club general manager Rich Spurlin and the club’s board of directors, he submitted a bid for the club to host its first NCAA Championship since 1978.
“Eugene embraces amateur athletics and Eugene Country Club loves their Ducks,” Spurlin said. “When the idea came up we were delighted.”
Eugene Country Club will host the women’s championships from May 20-25 and men’s championships May 27-June 1.
The course will play differently in championships than what the Ducks are used to. The front nine and back nine will be flipped in an effort to make the end of rounds more compelling.
Although this will be different from what the Ducks are accustomed to, the possibility of competing for a championship on their home course remains advantageous.
“Being able to play here three times a week, that experience is something we’re going to have over everybody else,” Oregon sophomore Aaron Wise said. “Being home, being able to sleep in our owns beds and go to our own gyms – all of that is going to play into it.”
During the last two seasons, Oregon has played its best in the fall before dropping off in the spring. At the start of this season, the team discussed how it was going to reverse that trend. Oregon started slow in the fall, but have since improved in the spring, placing fifth or better in four of its last five tournaments.
Most recently, the Ducks finished third at Pasatiempo Golf Club’s Western Intercollegiate, and Wise finished one stroke behind individual winner Maverick McNealy of Stanford.
“To come in third at Pasatiempo shows we’re really close,” Wise said. “We’re looking to peak, and now is the time to do it.”
After playing in the Pac-12 Championships April 30-May 1, Oregon will have to finish fifth or better in its regional to advance to the NCAA championship in Eugene. Often characterized as the toughest week in collegiate golf, it’s far from ideal, but the Ducks accept the challenge.
“Your whole season comes down to three rounds and most of the time you’re shipped to some place you’re not familiar with,” Martin said. “It is what it is, and we have to be ready for it.”
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner