BYU will encounter a unique setting when the Cougars tee off in the Morgan Hill NCAA regional golf tournament at both reclusive and inclusive Institute Golf Club south of San Jose on Monday.

“I think we’re one of the best driving teams in the country. We all hit it far and we like hitting the driver. I think it’s an advantage for us with the longer holes.” — BYU golfer Zac Jones

There’s a good chance every college golfer in the field will have played the course for the first time in practice rounds Saturday and Sunday. In other words, when it comes to reading greens, knowing the places to hit safely and make approaches, all will be equal. 

That’s rare. Usually, a team in the field can call a site a home track, or at least a regular place its played during their careers.

“Most of the teams when we go to a regional have played the course, but this one is very exclusive, it’s 8,000 yards long, it’s really difficult, so we’re going to have to hit it long and straight and figure out a way to make a few putts. When we miss, we have to get up and down.”

Utah’s Javier Barcos qualified to play at Morgan Hill as an individual, seeded No. 4. UVU’s Brady McKinlay also earned an individual spot at the Bear’s Best Regional in Las Vegas.

How exclusive is this Institute of Golf track?

BYU director of golf Todd Miller grew up in northern California and he never played it. His brother Andy played it 10 years ago. Mike Weir played it. His nephew who plays at Cal never played it, Miller said.

“Growing up around there I’ve never even heard of the course, which is crazy. Usually, I’ve got a donor who says there’s this course, come and play it, but nobody’s ever taken me there. They call it the Area 51 of private courses.”

Miller said the course is a little wider off the tee. 

“That really benefits our team. We have guys who can hit it long. They’re going to stretch it out to about 7,600 yards, and that will be to our advantage. The par-3s are right about 190 to 260 yards. They have one par-3 that’s 150, another 190 and another 206, and they can stretch the other one out to 260 yards. That all plays to our strengths. Our distance off the tee and tougher par-3s plays into our hands. Where we struggle is on par-4s.

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“Sometimes we struggle a bit on the fours. We aren’t as sharp from that 100- to 140-yard distance with our wedges as some of the other teams,” said Miller.

This course will allow the Cougars to hit a lot of mid-long irons into par-3s and par-4s, and with some of the par-5s being 650 yards or longer, those longer approach shots will favor BYU’s players, said Miller.

“The other thing that’s great is nobody’s played it. You have Pepperdine and Cal from out in this area and I don’t think they’ve ever played it. So I think it’s good that we’re going to a totally neutral site for a regional championship. Usually, you go to a place like Oklahoma and one spot is gone because you know even if the Sooners play terribly, they’re in the finals and will advance from that regional.”

BYU will enter the field as a No. 8 seed as defending WCC champions. “Only five teams will advance,” said Keanu Akina. “But we aren’t an eight seed and we’re going to prove it,” he said.

Zac Jones, who qualified for the U.S. Open second stage on May 9 at Missoula Country Club with a 65, said the Cougars have momentum after wins at the Cougar Classic and WCC, where he was medalist.

“I think we’re one of the best driving teams in the country. We all hit it far and we like hitting the driver. I think it’s an advantage for us with the longer holes,” said Jones. 

No. 43 BYU will join No. 6 Pepperdine, No. 7 Florida State, No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 19 Arizona, No. 30 Louisville, No. 31 Baylor, No. 42 Missouri, No. 49 Houston, No. 53 NC State, No. 55 California, No. 78 Charlotte, No. 112 Grand Canyon and No. 194 Northern Colorado in the 54-hole tournament. 

There were 81 teams and 45 individual participants selected last Wednesday to compete in the six regionals around the country. The top five teams and top individual (not on an advancing team) will advance to Scottsdale, Arizona, to compete for the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship from May 27 to June 1 at Grayhawk Golf Club.

“We really need everyone on the team to play well,” said BYU men’s coach Bruce Brockbank. “They have to bring their best stuff. This is what your shoot for, you want to get to the finals.”

Said Tyson Shelley, whose 66 at Broadlands Golf Course in Colorado on May 9 earned medalist in U.S. Open qualifying first stage: “I’m really excited to get down there to show everyone in the field what we’ve got.” Right now Shelley said his putting stroke feels solid and he’s hitting the ball long.

BYU’s most experienced player, former Lone Peak star Carson Lundell, said the Cougars are hitting their stride at the right time.

“I feel we are a really deep team. We can all hit it a long way and for the most part, pretty straight, hopefully. I think coming off wins at the Cougar Classic and WCC back-to-back, things are starting to come together at the right time. We are super excited to give it a run and get back to Grayhawk.” 

You can follow all the NCAA regionals this week on Golfstat.com.

BYU golfer Carson Lundell places the ball for a putt. Lundell and the Cougars begin NCAA regional play Monday. | Nate Edwards, BYU Photo