Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports
Unless there is a dramatic turn of events tomorrow, it looks like UCLA will miss out on another opportunity to hoist national title No. 109 this year.
A little over a week after the top-ranked men’s tennis team fell in the NCAA finals, the No. 3 men’s golf team finds itself this close to the chopping block. The Bruins entered the NCAA Championships in Woodstock, Ga. with the expectation to legitimately contend, especially following their dominant win in the Tempe Regional.
However, after two days on the links, UCLA is tied for 21st place and needs to jump into the Top 8 to advance to the next round on Friday. Interestingly, the Bruins already played Crabapple Golf Course (the home of Georgia Tech) once this year, back in September to kick off the 2012-13 season. In that event, UCLA held first place on the second day, but slipped to finish in a fifth-place tie with a three-day total of 854 (+14).
Granted, the competition in a season opening preview is nothing compared to that of a national title tournament. But the Bruins still have to feel disappointed dropping so far on a course they’ve already seen.
This time around, UCLA finished Day 1 in 23rd place with a team round of 289 (+9), and followed it up with a Day 2 total of 570 (+10 overall). The Bruins did manage to shave eight stokes between days with a one-over par on Wednesday, but the modest positional improvement as a result is disconcerting. It really seems like UCLA will have to an absolutely monstrous outing on Thursday, coupled with a few collapses in the front of the line, to advance to the match play draw.
Texas A&M is currently in 8th place at even par, while the host Yellow Jackets top the leader board at -12. Two Pac-12 teams are already inside the cut line, as Arizona State and conference tourney champs Cal are in 7th and 2nd, respectively. In order for UCLA to pull off a miraculous resurrection, some of these teams will have to falter. And just to ramp up the competition and intensity more, it’s the same do-or-die scenario for every other team on the outside looking in too.
The urgency level will be high and nerves will be on edge. In most sports, that kind of intensity can translate into game-changing plays (think: a punishing sack or thunderous slam dunk). But in golf, a game hinged on the ability to control one’s own emotion, the slightest distraction from focus can be the end. UCLA will be on thin ice, as the Bruins truly need a standout performance from every member of the squad for No. 109 to be won this week.