After a 12-week winter break, Mean Green men’s golf open their spring season in Westlake Village, California, the week of Jan. 27 against four top-20 ranked teams in the nation. Teams in the Southwestern Invitational Tournament include No. 4 ranked Brigham Young, No. 6 (hosting) Pepperdine, No. 10 Arizona State and No. 18 UCLA.
The second half of the 2019-20 season widens up new opportunities and roles for a team with six new players, five of whom are freshmen. Head coach Brad Strake views the first tournament to be a vital source for competition leading into Conference USA play later in the spring.
“We expect to see good teams, especially some that are top-10 in the country,” Stracke said. “The weather and the course out there will be nice. We’ll see how we stack up against some of the top teams. I know some of the guys really improved throughout the fall by playing in tournaments during the break and by putting in some hard work.”
For the first half, men’s golf competed in five tournaments. Their best overall finish included second-place in their home tournament on Oct. 6 and 7 at the Maridoe Inter-collegiate in Carrolton, Texas. The Mean Green saw three top 10 finishes from Sunday, Oct. 6 including Lenny Bergsson shooting at par, tying for fourth place, while both junior Kristof Ulenaers and freshman Zak Karkaletsos tied for seventh at +1.
Playing near the Pacific Ocean and competing against programs like Stanford, Pepperdine, Arizona State and UCLA are what Stracke believes to be a recruiting asset. The coastal Southern California region stays at a favorable golfing temperature near the high 50s to the low 70s all year. Tournaments like the Southwestern Invitational attract recruits when looking at their schedule because of the playing atmosphere.
“The schedule is absolutely important when you’re trying to recruit players from around the world,” Stracke said. “Who you play is a big selling point because the recruits want to play the best competition, especially in nice places. It also helps us as a program to improve our own game and see where we’re at.”
Southern California returns to the tournament as they defend their win at the spring 2019 Southwestern Invitational by one stroke against California-Berkley. The then-senior golfer, Justin Suh, clinched his club a win with a birdie on hole 18. Suh finished the tournament in first place with an individual score of -12.
Karkaletsos throughout the break anticipated the first spring tournament as a means to stay confident no matter who is on the schedule. The team is aware that they must be ready to play due to the numerous ranked teams competing.
“The first tournament is where you get out of your comfort zone,” Karkaletsos said. “No matter the competition, we expect to play our game and at the end of the day to win. A lot of us worked really hard over the break, and I’ve seen improvements myself.”
The entire 27-hole course will be held in Westlake Village, California, at the North Ranch Country Club. The country club’s course is divided into three ways among the “valley,” “lakes” and “oaks” between their respective nine holes.
The valley course has a par three at holes three and seven, including a par five at hole eight. The lakes course has a par three at holes three and eight while having a par five at hole four and six. The oaks course has a par three at holes four and eight, rounding out a par five at holes three and six.
Featured Image: Junior Viktor Forslund tees off during practice on Jan. 20, 2020. Image by Meredith Holser