AUBURN, Ala. — The University of Colorado men’s golf team is looking to pick up where it left off at last month’s Pac-12 Championships, as the Buffaloes are primed to play well in the NCAA Southeast/Auburn Regional which begins here Thursday.
Colorado, ranked No. 48 in the nation (GolfStat; No. 53 Golfweek) is the No. 8 seed in the field, and is looking to advance to the NCAA Championship Finals for the first time since 2002. The seed ties the highest CU has ever been in the 18 regionals it has qualified for since the NCAA adopted the format in 1989.
The Buffs have been idle since April 27, when they finished fourth at the Pac-12 Championships in Tucson. CU was in wallowing in 11th place late in the second round and finished 36 holes in 10th, but then caught fire. Colorado shot the best team score in the third round to vault into sixth place and then recorded the second best final round score to move up another two spots to finish fourth. Only No. 10 Washington (716 strokes) managed to edge out the Buffaloes (718) over those last 36 holes as CU bested five top 25 teams those last two days.
"I know everyone is relieved to be done with finals, it’s always a nice feeling to be able to compete once they’re over and not have to worry about school,” said head coach Roy Edwards. “A couple of guys are over an illness that was going around, so we are raring to go. Our frame of mind is very good, we’re excited to get out there and compete again following how we finished at the Pac-12 Championships. We’ve been playing with confidence all year, and the way we played at Tucson certainly has brought that to another level.”
The five Buffaloes who will compete here are junior David Oraee, sophomore Philip Juel-Berg and three freshmen, Ethan Freeman and identical twins Jeremy and Yannik Paul. It will be the first time in 18 regional appearances that Colorado will have as many as three freshmen competing, but this group also happens to be the nation’s No. 1-performing freshman class according to GolfStat.
“It’s certainly rare (to bring three true freshmen), but not unheard of, and I think it speaks to how the team developed as a group,” he said. “Jeremy has been good all year, Yannik has been practically right there with him, and Ethan really showed something when he was pressed into action after not playing in a tournament all spring and gave us two solid outings. They’re more excited to go out there and compete instead of being freshmen and worrying about playing in a regional for the first time.”
Jeremy Paul leads the team in stroke average with a 72.35 figure, having played in all 11 tournaments this season, as has Juel-Berg (72.85) and Oraee (73.03). Yannik Paul sports a 72.94 stroke norm while playing in 10 meets, while Freeman rounds out the group at 74.56, as he’s played in five. Edwards isn’t concerned in the least that he’s taking the youngest CU team in history to a regional, one that’s earned just eight letters in addition to including three true freshmen.
Oraee, the defending Colorado state match play champion, has taken his game up a notch in the last month.
“David’s really blossomed into a top collegian,” Edwards said. “Over the course of the three years he’s been here, he’s really improved. Things have really come together for him the last three months, he’s gained a lot of confidence and he’s really comfortable with his game. It’s no surprise that he’s played well in his last three events, and he can and wants to play even better. It’s going to be exciting to see how he keeps developing.”
“When we played our best, we have played with a lot confidence and we have had fun, and that is because we prepared well,” Edwards said. “If we can continue to do those things, we’ll perform at the highest level we can. The team gained even more confidence from our last two rounds at the Pac-12’s, but in order to shoot those kinds of rounds, the guys had to have confidence anyway. I feel like we’ll play similar to that, they are motivated to go out play well, to show everyone what we are made of. The goal is obviously to advance, and we’ll be disappointed with anything less than that.”
Auburn is the host school, with the Auburn University Club serving as the host course; it has a 7,254-yard, par-72 layout and was designed by Bill Bergin in 1999. The course surrounds the 25-acre Yarbrough Lake and is partly bordered by Saugahatchee Creek. The course features magnificent trees, wetlands, creek and streams as natural water features are prominent on the course.
Edwards likes this team’s chances of advancing, despite the fact that the last two national champions, Alabama and Texas, are in the field.
"It’s no different than at any of the six regional sites,” he said. “I like our chances if we play well, and if we don’t, we won’t advance. There are too many good teams, and no one is going to move on to the Finals with a mediocre performance. I think it’s exciting to play somewhere new, where we haven’t been before, and your attention is usually a little bit better at a course you’ve never played. The five teams who make the least number of controllable mistakes will advance. As I’ve always said, this has more to do about us doing our job more than anything else."
Colorado will tee off at 7:50 a.m. (MDT) on Thursday off the No. 1 tee, with the Buffs paired with Kennesaw State (No. 7 seed) and Louisville (No. 9); the Cardinals are coached by ’78 CU alum Mark Crabtree. The field will be re-paired according to score after the first and second rounds, with all tee times between 7:00 and 9:20 a.m. for the second round (Friday) and between 6:30 and 8:50 a.m. for the final round (Saturday).
The top five teams and top two individuals who are not members of those squads will advance to the NCAA Championship Finals, which are scheduled for May 23-28 in Hutchinson, Kan.