Erratic Play Plagues Golf Season

    MEN’S GOLF — Over the past month, the Tritons have been busy preparing for California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship, set to take place later this week. And after closing the month of March with a pair of eighth-place finishes, the team had reason to believe it could make a strong postseason run — until a sloppy finish at the Hanny/Stanislaus Invitational on April 12 and 13 shattered the team’s shot at the NCAA postseason.

    UCSD has struggled all season to find consistent play in the fourth and fifth spots on its roster. With each team counting its four best scores from five, the Tritons were too erratic to compete at the same level every week.

    “By the time things got better, we were too far behind to make [the National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason],” head coach Mike Wydra said. “We’ve had flashes of brilliance, but no consistency this season. When people play well, we never get the fifth score. We usually have to eat that big fifth number.”

    The 54-hole CCAA Championship will still be packed with pressure for three Triton golfers. According to Wydra, senior Keith Okasaki has all but officially qualified for the NCAA Super Regionals on May 3 to May 5 with consistent play throughout the season. Senior Raj Samra and junior Richard Morris are within striking distance of a spot as well, the coach said.

    Samra said he believes he needs a top-20 finish this week, and that he is confident that his game is in proper form to a make a run at the Super Regionals. (The NCAA selection committee has yet to release any official statistics.)

    “I really want to make it,” Samra said. “I am really good at performing under pressure, and I have been getting my confidence back. Over the past month, I have really been changing how I think about golf. I wasn’t taking it as seriously, and realized it was affecting my ability to make Super Regionals.”

    Samra’s chances for the postseason diminished when he was disqualified at the 60th Annual SoCal Intercollegiate from Mar. 22 to Mar. 23. According to league rules, players are required to have two signatures on their scorecard when turning it in. Samra failed to get his playing partner’s signature before submitting what would have been the Tritons’ second-best round on the day.

    “I handed it to him to sign, and assumed that [my playing partner] did it, since the card was closed when I got it back,” Samra said. “Apparently, he was just checking his scores with his scorekeeper and never signed it. I shot 76 and bogeyed the last two holes. Not having that score count toward my average really hurt my chances of making it to regionals.”

    The Tritons managed an eighth-place finish at the event, though the inclusion of Samra’s score would have moved UCSD into sixth-place overall.

    After transferring from community college, Morris had trouble transitioning to the Division-II level during early season play. But after finishing in a tie for 13th place at the Grand Canyon Thunderbird Invitational, Morris said he believes he is in a good frame of mind going into the championship this week.

    “It has been a tough season, but this past month has been promising,” he said. “This week is pretty important — it is the conference championships.”

    The Tritons’ performance at the Grand Canyon Thunderbird Invitational was a glimpse of how Wydra and his squad had hoped to play all season. Morris fired the best individual round all season for the Tritons with a four-under-par 68. UCSD also shot its lowest team round and overall score with an even-par 288 and eight-over-par 872, respectively.

    While Okasaki, Samra and Morris look to cement their positions at the Super Regionals, sophomore Justin Gabbert and freshman Anubhav Rastogi will look to gain valuable experience for next season at the tournament.

    Gabbert, who underwent significant swing changes in the middle of the season to help provide more consistency to his game, has epitomized UCSD’s inconsistent play throughout the season.

    “I never knew what was going to happen [in my rounds],” Gabbert said. “Every tee shot was an adventure, and I was real streaky. I could be two-under-par for 14 holes and end up shooting [six-over-par]. A few bad holes ruined rounds.”

    Rastogi earned his spot on the roster for the CCAA Championship with a stellar performance at the Hanny/Stanislaus Invitational. At the event, Rastogi shot rounds of 74 and 75 on Day One. Though the Tritons did poorly as a team, Rastogi’s rounds gave him an opportunity to experience firsthand postseason golf.

    “It’s an unknown going into this week,” he said. “ I don’t know what to expect as a freshman. I’m waiting to see how my game has improved and how far it has come.”

    The Tritons have qualified at least one player for the NCAA Super Regionals every season during Wydra’s 33-year tenure. Okasaki is shooting to become the first individual in UCSD history to make the NCAA National Championships. But that won’t come easily, according to Wydra.

    “To make nationals, a player must be the top finisher in a 110-player field from a team that doesn’t qualify,” he said. “The quality of players has gone up this year.”

    Readers can contact Matt Croskey at [email protected].

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