Bruce Brockbank is hoping for perfect weather Sunday in central Oklahoma, while his BYU team stays away from Karsten Creek Golf Club. That way, nobody could say the Cougars enjoyed an advantage in the NCAA Championship.
BYU is in the 24-team men’s field for the first time since the national tournament adopted a schedule that included a Sunday round. Because school policy prohibits Sunday activity, the Cougars will be allowed to play Thursday (one day ahead of the field) in what counts as their third round in the 72-hole, stroke-play portion of the event in Stillwater, Okla.
As the BYU women’s team did in 2016, the Cougars will tee off one by one Thursday, accompanied by a walking scorer after the other teams have completed their practice rounds and the Sunday hole locations are created. The biggest variable is the weather; BYU’s position could be affected one way or another if Thursday’s conditions differ markedly from Sunday’s.
How it works:
BYU’s men’s golf team will play Thursday, counting as its third-round score in the 24-team NCAA Championship at Stillwater, Okla. The Cougars also will play Friday and Saturday. After Sunday, when BYU is idle, the field will be cut to 15 teams, along with nine individuals from non-qualifying teams. Monday’s final round of stroke play will determine the eight teams advancing to match play.
“Is it a perfect deal? I’m not going to answer that. But it gives these kids a chance to play,” said Brockbank, BYU’s longtime coach.
The Cougars earned their NCAA opportunity with a tie for second place (five teams advanced) in a regional tournament at Norman, Okla. BYU’s most recent appearance at nationals came in 2006, when Daniel Summerhays and Clay Ogden were among the team’s leaders. PGA Tour player Zac Blair never competed at that stage during his BYU career.
So this is a breakthrough for the program in the senior years of Patrick Fishburn, a former State Amateur and Utah Open champion, and CJ Lee. Spencer Dunaway, a junior, and sophomores Rhett Rasmussen and Peter Kuest are BYU’s other contestants. “It’s just an awesome feeling,” Fishburn said. “My career at BYU would have felt a little incomplete if I didn’t play in the national tournament.”
The circumstances of playing alone Thursday are “definitely going to be a little bit different,” Fishburn said, “but I don’t think it’ll be too big of a deal.”
The Cougars will play together in a practice round Wednesday to help one another learn the course, but Brockbank had them tee off individually last week in Provo to simulate Thursday’s round.
BYU women’s golf coach Carrie Roberts has gone through this experience three years in a row, once with her full team and then with individual entrants Alex White and Rose Huang. White finished 14th last year in Illinois; Huang tied for 21st at Karsten Creek as stroke play concluded Monday. Huang shot 74 in what counted as her third round; she also posted scores of 70, 75 and 73. Her position was basically unchanged after her Thursday score was applied Sunday.
“It is just what you make of it, honestly,” Roberts said. “We’re just kind of getting the hang of it.”
BYU’s presence in the men’s field will bring attention to the program, if nothing else. In 2016, when her team finished last among 24 schools, Roberts said, “We literally were the most talked-about team on the Golf Channel.”
BYU will have to play well just to make the cut to Monday’s fourth round, with 15 of the 24 teams advancing. The Cougars had an outstanding fall season, but didn’t perform as well in the spring until coming through in the regional tournament. “We’ve kind of been frustrated all semester, because we know we can play a lot better than we have been,” Fishburn said. “We knew we wanted to have our best stuff for these events.”