ISU men’s golf returns to desert

Mike Randleman

It could be Arizona’s warm desert climate, the abundance of tournaments or the quality of golf courses, but whatever the case, the ISU men’s golf team has found an affinity for the Grand Canyon State this season.

The Cyclones are preparing for the National Invitational Tournament on Feb. 28 to March 2 in Tucson, Ariz. — the third of five trips to Arizona and their second to Tucson.

The tournament will be held at the Catalina Course at OMNI Tucson National, a different course from the Sewailo Golf Club that Iowa State visited in January.

With six competitive rounds under its belt in two tournaments, as well as three days of practice in Arizona before the season, No. 49 Iowa State is hoping the rust accumulated from a lack of outdoor practice will begin to shake off.

In two spring tournaments, Iowa State has finished in a tie for fourth out of 15 teams and tied for sixth out of 24. Both events resulted in a finish on the upper half of the leaderboard, albeit against just three top-25 opponents in total.

As the Cyclones hit the meat of their seven-tournament spring regular season, they expect to re-acclimatize themselves and improve their ranking.

“We basically knew it would all help us because the more play coming out of the winter, the better we’re going to get. [That is] because you have international [players] that aren’t used to the winter, so I think the more we play, the better we’re going to be,” said senior Sam Daley on the significance of the team’s first two events. “I’m sure we’ll be fine if we keep playing and keep playing well.”

Four tournaments await the Cyclones in a span of just more than a month, during which they are expected to face stiffer competition than they’ve seen as a part of a 98th-ranked schedule thus far, according to Golfweek.

When reflecting on last week’s Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate, ISU coach Andrew Tank said he was optimistic moving forward, based on the incremental success sustained in each round.

“I think it was definitely a step forward for us,” Tank said. “We didn’t play like we were capable of, but I think there’s a lot to build on. We’re just going to keep getting better with more competition and more opportunities.”

As Iowa State has proven to do several times in the past two seasons, the Cyclones got off to a slow start, ultimately digging a hole too deep for escape, even after a rally in the second and third rounds.

They have proven their resilience at improving as an individual tournament goes on, but the improvement from tournament to tournament has been inconsistent.

This week, Iowa State will have one of its better opportunities to find success, as there are zero teams of Golfweek’s top 25 in the field and only four out of 15 teams participating are ranked higher than the Cyclones.

No. 27 California will be the favorite to take the team title as it will defend its 2014 National Invitational Tournament victory. The Golden Bears are also the highest-ranked team in the field. 

Three golfers in Golfweek’s top 50 will be in the field, including No. 7 Gavin Green of New Mexico, who is also the No. 8 amateur in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

The first of three rounds of the invitational will begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 28, with the second and third rounds at the same time March 1 and 2.