Men’s Golf Lands 10th at Western Washington Invitational

    In its annual rankings of the nation’s top 792 golf programs, Golf Digest has billed the UCSD men’s golf program as the best in Division II, and No. 32 across all three collegiate divisions.

    The rankings were printed in Golf Digest’s September issue as a guide for aspiring high school students. Considered factors were whether a team improved or declined last season, the previous season’s scoring average, percentage rate of change, campus academics, campus climate and the program’s coaches and facilities.

    UCSD ranked first in academics among D-II schools, first in climate among all schools and in the top 10 percent for coaches and facilities among all schools.

    “These rankings mean a lot,” junior Nathan Phan said. “It really gives us a sense of pride to play for UCSD. We still want to play consistently and improve, and the rankings will go up if we do that.”

    Entering his 29th season at the helm, head coach Mike Wydra has seen UCSD’s golf program emerge from obscurity to national recognition.

    “When I was first hired we played dual matches against one other team,” Wydra said. “As we got farther and farther along, we played in a few tournaments a year and started having post-season success. We made the move to Division II in 2000 and have made it to the NCAA regionals every year since. The rankings are based on things you can’t control but are a pretty good cross section of what makes any program good.”

    The Triton men are coming off a sixth-place finish in last year’s NCAA D-II Northwest/West Super Regional, where Nathan Phan finished in ninth place, just missing a bid for NCAA Championships as an individual.

    “I was disappointed, but I wasn’t thinking about making it as an individual,” Phan said. “I just wanted to play solid for the team, and making it as an individual would’ve been a bonus.”

    Phan is part of a UCSD squad that has kept last year’s roster intact. He said that the team is better prepared than ever, because the returning juniors are all consistent contributors and drive others to play better. With so much returning talent, it appears the Tritons are poised to make a run at the NCAA Team Championships in what would be their first appearance since 2003-04.

    “It isn’t out of reach,” junior Billy Olsen said. “We have a solid team coming back and we have the experience.”

    That campaign began Sept. 24 to Sept. 25 in Bellingham, Wash., where UCSD teed off at the Western Washington Invitational at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club. The 14-team field played two rounds Sept. 24 and followed up the 36-hole day with a final 18 on Sept. 25.

    Juniors Phan, Olsen, Ryan Bailey, Noah Moss and freshman Bryan Olshock made the plane trip for the Tritons.

    “[The Invitational] was weird because it happened before school started,” Phan said. “We hadn’t had any team practices yet so we just showed up at the airport and flew to Washington. We were a little rusty after not playing in tournaments in awhile.”

    After day one, Phan led UCSD with a 71-77, four-over total of 148, earning him a tie for 22nd in the tournament. Bailey supplemented Phan with rounds of 74-76 for a six-over 150.

    The challenge of collegiate golf is that there are two winners: an individual and a team. A typical tournament consists of 54 holes with each team bringing five players. Each player competes individually, carding his own score. The team score comprises four of the school’s top five, ultimately cumulating into one total. As always is the case in golf, the lowest score wins. But the team-play aspect of golf is different from any other sport, as Wydra explains.

    “What happens in many other sports is your performance depends on how well others around you perform,” he said. “In golf, it’s such an individual sport that you have to play your game as if there is no one anywhere near you. It’s important if you hear your teammates are doing well because it boosts you, but if you hear they’re doing poorly, you’re an individual so it doesn’t make you play poorly.”

    Despite the independence of each player, the Tritons had a collectively rusty day one: A team total of 600 placed the Tritons in 10th with some serious play needed to catch leader University of British Columbia at 556.

    UCSD posted a team total 301 in the final round, leaving the Tritons in the same spot they started at the beginning of the day.

    Phan again led the Tritons, carding a two-over par 74 for a three-round total 222 and a 27th place finish. Phan finished four strokes ahead of teammate Bailey, who shot a closing round four-over 76 for a 226 overall.

    Olsen finished tied for 42nd at 227, and Moss finished tied for 59th at 234. In his inaugural collegiate event, Olshock placed 50th with score of 230.

    “It’s really easy in golf to get down on yourself when you’re not playing well,” Olsen said. “But we have 10 guys on the team this year and each one is supporting one another and helping each other’s swing. We didn’t play that great, but it’s still a long season.”

    The long season continues as UCSD will finish out its fall play with two more tournaments. First up is the Sonoma State Invitational on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Then the team will travel to Hawaii to play in the Mauna Lani Invitational from Oct. 29 to Oct. 30.

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