In its first outing since the conclusion of the fall season at the Bridgestone Invitational in October, the Utah golf team traveled down to Tucson’s Sewailo Golf Club to compete in the Arizona Intercollegiate Invitational over the weekend.
Going up against some of the top golf programs in the West, the Utes finished in 10th place out of the 17-team field, having shot a combined 44-over-par over three rounds and two days of play (298-297-301=896). Texas would go on to capture the tournament title with a nine-under-par total score of 843.
In addition to facing top teams from around the country, the Utes also got an early taste of Pac-12 competition, as Washington, Washington State and Cal were present, in addition to the host team Arizona. The Huskies and Golden Bears finished second and third, shooting four-under (848) and even-par (852), respectively, while WSU’s 32-over-par gave them the fifth-place spot (884). The Wildcats landed two spots behind Utah with a 51-over-par (903).
Senior Jose Pelayo said the team was excited to kick off the spring season and that competing in such a challenging field was greatly beneficial.
“I’m pretty fired up. I haven’t competed for a while, but it’s good, playing against pretty good teams right out of the gate,” Pelayo said. “It really puts into perspective where we are as a team and tells us what parts of our game need to be worked on in order to compete against those teams.”
In the opening round of the tournament, the Utes looked a little rough around the edges, and at the end of the day, sat in 10th with 14-over-par. Pelayo led the team with a score of one-over-par (72) and was tied for 10th-place after Friday’s action. Also placing in the Top 50 for Utah were junior Gentry Hicks in 25th (74), and Jonathon Thomas in 35th (75).
“We knew we wouldn’t be on our top game this week, but skill-wise, things were a little dicey as far as having all the shots in the bag that you need,” said head coach Randall McCracken. “Some poor decision-making, I think, cost us a few shots out there. We had to do some things out there that we weren’t ready to do yet this early in the season.”
On Sunday, the Utes began play in the second round but were unable to do much to close the gap between themselves and the field leaders. Most of the team had an average performance in the second stage of the invitational, with the exception of freshman Trent Hill, who carded the team’s best score of the round, a one-over-par (72), and took off eight strokes from his score the previous round.
The Utes rounded out their time in Arizona by shooting combined 17-over-par in the final round, moving the team into the 10th-place spot overall. Pelayo ended the tournament as Utah’s highest finisher, being tied for 23rd place out of 84 other golfers with a two-day score of eight-over-par.
“I didn’t play up to my usual expectations,” Pelayo said. “But we really didn’t have very high expectations due to the weather conditions that we had here and the limited opportunities that we had to practice.”
While a heavier-than-usual helping of the greatest snow on Earth has many here in Utah happily flocking to the slopes, it has been a considerable obstacle for the golf team, which has seen its practices reduced and short-game somewhat hindered.
“I think [we practiced] about an hour or two a day. But as most golfers know, that isn’t enough time in a day to really put in the work that you have to put in to compete at this level,” Pelayo said.
But McCracken said the team is doing a good job adjusting to the conditions to the limited practice and will put in plenty of work during a series of road trips taking the team to St. George, Tuscon, Kauai, Corvallis and Scottsdale.
“We have four tournaments in four weeks, so we’re going to be gone for the entire month of February,” McCracken said. “We’re going to be spending a lot of time outside Utah playing golf, so we’re not going to have to practice here a lot. It’s going to be alright, because the more we play, the better we’re going to get.”
While both McCracken and Pelayo said the team’s performance over the weekend was less than ideal, they also said the team is placing less emphasis on the regular season results and focusing all their energy in preparing for the Pac-12 Championships, which the Utes will host at the end of April.
“If we get off to a slow start this spring, it’s not that big of a deal, we’re not that concerned about it,” Mccracken said. “But what we hope to do is getting our games peaking the last week of April. That’s what we are trying to accomplish. We want everything we’re doing this spring to prepare us for that event. Just like a professional golfer preparing themselves for the Masters. They start that preparation three months ahead of time. That’s kind of what we’re doing.”