Utah Golf Finds Individual Success, but Team Struggles at The Thunderbird


Jonathan Wang

Sophomore golfer Chris Bratcher golfing at the River Oaks golf course on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Austin Eames, Sports Writer


After three straight competitions on the West Coast, the Utah men’s golf team traveled to Arizona this past weekend, April 14 and 15, to compete in the Thunderbird Collegiate golf tournament hosted by Arizona State. 

The 2023 Thunderbird was a two-day tournament in Phoenix that took place at Papago Golf Course. As a collegiate tournament, the Thunderbird has a lengthy history: past medal winners include the likes of PGA professionals such as Phil Mickelson and even the 2023 Masters winner, Jon Rahm. 

Playing against a loaded field of teams and players, the Utes sought to put together a strong finish in their final match before conference championships. 

Day One

On the first day of the competition (Friday, April 14), two out of the weekend’s three rounds were held. The Utes’ best golf of the day came from Hunter Howe, who played some of his finest rounds ever as a Ute. Howe shot 2-under in both of his first two rounds, ending the day 4-under par and tied for 12th place overall. 

Howe’s first round of day one was a wild ride. The junior from Ogden, Utah began his day on the 10th hole with a bogey. After this initial blunder, Howe then rattled off two eagles and a birdie through the next 10 holes to put himself 3-under par. A double-bogey on hole three slowed down his momentum for a short period, but Howe’s last four holes of the first round was his most interesting stretch. In the final four holes, he shot a bogey, birdie, bogey, and finally eagle, to close out the round with a score of 69, 2-under par. 

Howe then replicated his round-one score of 69 with another in round two. However, this round was far less tumultuous, including no eagles or double bogeys. 

Javier Barcos had the Utes’ second-lowest score through two rounds, with a final day one tally of 142 strokes, or even par. 

Barcos began his day with a 1-under first round that included an impressive total of five birdies. A double bogey on his first hole of the day (10) was the junior from Spain’s biggest gaffe of the first round. In round two, Barcos had two birdies and three bogeys to finish 1-over par. 

Go Nakatsukasa boasted the Utes’ third-best finish of the day. An initial 5-over round paired with a second round of 2-over placed Nakatsukasa tied for 69th with a total of 7-over. Braxton Watts finished the day tied for 74th, Brandon Robison himself in 78th. As a team, the Utes finished the first day 9-over par, placing them 11th in the team standings. 

Day Two

Day two of the Thunderbird included the third and final round of the 54-hole tournament. Nakatsukasa had the Utes’ lowest round-three score with a total of 69 strokes. 

Nakatsukasa continued a streak of improvement following his opening 5-over round. After a final round score of 2-under, the freshman from San Diego jumped 19 spots to crack a top-50 placement in the tournament. 

As far as the Utes’ best individual finisher of the tournament, Howe managed an even par final round to end the tournament 4-under with a 54-hole total of 209 strokes. With a final score of 4-under, Howe maintained his 12th overall standing from the day before, finishing in the same spot at tournament’s end. 

“I’m really excited about how Hunter played,” said head coach Garrett Clegg. “We have been waiting for him to play at this level and hopefully this is just the starting point for him. As a team, we have to be better!”

A key to Howe’s tournament success was his performance on par-five holes. Out of 80 athletes competing in the tournament, Howe placed third with an average score of 4.22 on par-five holes. Moreover, he scored a total of 7-under on par-fives throughout the weekend. 

As a team, the Utes didn’t have a player shoot over 73 (2-over) in the final round. 

Barcos finished his weekend with a 73 to finish the tournament tied for 41st overall. Watts and Robison followed suit, also scoring 73 in the final round, finishing the tournament 72nd (tied) and 77th respectively. 

The Utah men’s golf team travels to Stanford, California on April 28 to take part in the PAC-12 Men’s Golf Championship. 


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