‘A phenomenal golf team’: BYU takes aim at NCAA Golf Championships — a day before everyone else
Because the third round is scheduled for Sunday, Cougars will play that round alone on Thursday, for religious reasons
Members of the BYU’s men’s golf team who are teeing it up this week in the NCAA Championships in Scottsdale, Arizona, say they won’t mind it if their competitors complain about the tournament being slightly altered so the Cougars don’t have to compete on Sunday.
“I think almost all of the coaches understand that this is not an advantage for us in any way. But you are going to have guys complain. If we shoot a great round, you are going to hear the rumblings.” — BYU director of golf Todd Miller
Because if that happens, and BYU director of golf Todd Miller predicts that it might, it will mean the Cougars played extremely well in their “third” round to open the tournament.
Opening a 72-hole tournament with Round 3? How can that be?
It’s fairly simple. For the fourth time since they first did it in 2018 in central Oklahoma, the Cougars will begin play on Thursday, a day ahead of the other 29 teams.
That’s because the third round of the stroke-play portion of the event is on Sunday, and the school sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not compete on Sundays, for religious reasons.
After the other teams conclude their third rounds on Sunday at Grayhawk Golf Club, while BYU is relaxing at the hotel, attending church, etc., the Cougars’ Thursday score will be added in. The field will then be cut to 15 teams for Monday’s final round of stroke play, after which an individual champion will be crowned.
The top eight teams after Monday’s round will advance to match play on Tuesday and Wednesday. Texas was the 2022 team champion.
Miller, son of legendary golfer and retired television golf analyst Johnny Miller, said by now most teams and coaches are familiar with the process when a BYU team makes the championships. The BYU women’s team experienced it first, back in 2016, playing its “Sunday” round alone the day before everyone else — using the same pin placements and tee boxes as would be implemented in the third round Sunday — and people haven’t argued too much that the allowance gives the Cougars an advantage.
Of course, part of that is because BYU has never really threatened to make the 15-team cut. Last year, for instance, BYU shot a 10-over-par 290, which was actually its best round of the tournament, while playing solo at the par-70 course, which measures around 7,300 yards. But the Cougars eventually finished in a tie for 21st, firing a 15-over 295 on Friday and a 22-over 302 on Saturday.
BYU’s Sunday exemption has “definitely brought a mixed bag (of reactions from fellow coaches),” Miller said Tuesday as the Cougars drove to the airport to make the flight to Phoenix. They were scheduled to get in their practice round on Wednesday.
“We really haven’t played fantastic (in 2018, 2019 and 2022). So when you don’t play great, nobody makes that big of a deal of it. But we still had people complain,” Miller said.
The director who once forfeited the championship match of the Utah State Amateur because it was scheduled on Sunday said if the Cougars post a great score Thursday — they will tee off one-by-one, playing as a single on every hole in the afternoon after the other 29 teams get in practice rounds — “you are definitely going to hear it, and we are going to welcome that.”
They are already prepared to remind teams that they finished 24th — dead last at the time — at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 2018 and 30th (also last) in 2019 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Brockbank called the scenario in Stillwater “a nightmare” after Thursday’s weather was awful and Sunday’s was ideal.
“I think almost all of the coaches understand that this is not an advantage for us in any way. But you are going to have guys complain. If we shoot a great round, you are going to hear the rumblings,” Miller predicted.
The Cougars are seeded 26th, which Miller termed “disrespect” after the squad placed second at the Morgan Hill Regional last week in California, five shots behind champion Mississippi State.
It is almost the same team that tied for 21st at Grayhawk last year; seniors Carson Lundell and David Timmins, junior Max Brenchley, and sophomore Tyson Shelley, final-round hero at Morgan Hill, are back. State Am champ Zac Jones has replaced Cole Ponich, who tied for 55th last year with a three-round total of 10-over 220 and was BYU’s highest finisher.
Ponich is redshirting this year.
“Every one of them, when we got done (last year), they were all saying, ‘We need to get back. We play this course well,’” Miller said. “We were very disappointed. We were upset. We were a little bit angry, all kinds of emotions like that. I think that’s driven them.”
Jones tied for fourth at the regional, while Brenchley tied for 17th and Lundell and Timmins tied for 20th. Shelley rebounded from a second-round 80 to shoot a final-round 68.
“That 4-under-par round, that last round out of Tyson Shelley, was absolutely incredible,” Miller said. “I mean, that is a big, tough golf course, and he hit 18 of 18 greens. If you are playing well, you might do that maybe once a year, or twice a year. But to do it in the final round of a regional championship on a really difficult golf course where not one other team was under par that day, that’s impressive golf.”
It remains to be seen whether last year’s experience, particularly in the play-alone round, will help the Cougars this year, but Miller believes it can’t hurt. There are some disadvantages, obviously, such as not having playing partners to get reads on putts and wind strength/direction from watching others’ shots.
“It is a super, super unique experience,” Lundell told BYUtv on Monday. “It is not very often you just have five guys playing (in succession, one by one). You just have an entire golf course to yourself.
“My freshman year, we made it and I had no idea what to expect. What I took from it is, ‘Man, this is the coolest thing ever.’ We are all good buddies, and we have the biggest stage in college golf, and we have the whole freakin’ course to ourselves.”
Miller said the Cougars will control what they can control — which doesn’t include the weather — and let the chips fall where they may. Forecasts call for sunny skies, light, variable winds and high-90s temperatures throughout the week.
Can the Cougars reach match play, which would be quite a feat for a squad ranked No. 43 in the country when the regionals began May 15?
“I would just say that this team handles pressure well. When the chips are down and we really have to shoot a good round, we have struggled in the past (with pressure), but this team is not that team,” Miller said. “This team has a lot of confidence in their ability on any golf course in any conditions with any pressure to be able to shoot great rounds. And as coaches we believe in them, too.”