Fernandez leads Cyclones against premiere competition

Alex Gookin

The doubts were there for Scott Fernandez’s critics. The ISU golfer was the highest-ranked player with an unproven resume.

That all changed in Arizona this past weekend.

Fernandez finished one stroke behind Oregon State’s Nick Chianello to finish second in a star-studded field of competition at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational. 

Although he didn’t win medalist honors, Fernandez defeated every Goliath expected to beat him, including the nation’s No. 1 golfer, Michael Kim of California. 

“It feels nice,” Fernandez said. “It showed that I’m working on the right stuff and I’ve got the game to be one of the top players, so it’s exciting.”

Fernandez also made a jump in the Golfweek.com rankings, reaching No. 11 individually after previously being ranked No. 18. He only trails No. 9 Albin Choi of North Carolina State by three-hundredths of a point in the rankings.

When asked where he would rank Fernandez nationally, ISU coach Andrew Tank said it’s almost impossible to rank players nationally without head-to-head matchups; but the Cyclone coach didn’t hesitate to praise his player.

“I’ll just say this: There is not a better player out there in college golf than Scott,” Tank said.

But this meet wasn’t all about Fernandez. Sam Daley has made strides toward improving his game, and his round of 217 tied him for 33rd in a field of 100.

“I played better than what my scores showed,” Daley said. “But overall, I’m seeing a trend of improvement.”

In his last three meets, Daley has a 73.22 stroke average, just below Fernandez’s stroke average last season. Daley’s stroke average on the season is 75.04.

“Sam [Daley] has made some good strides in the last couple weeks,” Tank said. “[He] hasn’t really reaped the benefits of that in terms of score yet, but I expect Sam to put himself in contention to win at one or both of the last two regular season events.”

The ASU Thunderbird Invitational, which featured 10 of the top 50 players and two of the top-three teams in the country, helped the Cyclones move up seven spots to No. 84 nationally after finishing seventh in the field of 18 teams.

The meet was won by No. 33 UNLV, beating out top-ranked California by one stroke. San Diego finished four strokes back from the lead, while New Mexico, which led for the majority of the meet, had a final-round collapse, going 4-over par and slipping to fourth. 

Individually, Chianello of Oregon State burst onto the scene, winning his first collegiate tournament of his career. The senior’s previous highest tournament finish was fifth place, twice this season. 

Brandon Hagy of California tied Fernandez for second place with a score of 203. Hagy, who is third on the California lineup, is currently ranked No. 19 nationally.

Finishing in the top half of the standings and in front of three teams ranked higher than the Cyclones was a positive step for the team. But while the meet shows the team is headed in the right direction, Tank said it has a lot of work to reach its full potential.

“I would say I’m encouraged,” Tank said of the perfomance. “I wouldn’t say happy, but I’m encouraged. I feel like there were some positive steps made, so we have some things to build on as we try to finish out the rest of the season in a strong fashion.”