By Brentley Romine, Golfweek
BRADENTON, Fla. — Experience can be a big part of winning formulas at the NCAA Championship.
Alabama rode three seniors to a second straight national title last year at Prairie Dunes. In 2011, Augusta State surrounded Patrick Reed with four seniors as the Jaguars notched their second national-championship victory. Even the Jordan Spieth-led Texas team that won the 2012 national crown also had senior Dylan Fritelli and juniors Julio Vegas and Cody Gribble.
However, through 36 holes this week at The Concession Golf Club, the leading team does not fit that mold. USC has a combined two NCAA Championship appearances among its five players, yet finds itself with a three-shot advantage at the midway point in stroke play.
“The pressure is not on us, it’s on everyone else,” said Trojans freshman Sean Crocker, “and we’re able to go out there and play our best.”
Crocker, one of two freshman here this week for USC, capped a 3-under 69 Saturday with a birdie at the par-4 ninth hole. He shook off early nerves and two bogeys at the start of his second round to go bogey-free in his final 16 holes.
He’s tied for fourth individually at 3 under, a shot ahead of teammate Rico Hoey, a sophomore who also closed his second round with birdie, shooting 72. USC also counted a 72 from freshman Jonah Texeira and a 73 from junior Bobby Gojuangco, who is also making his NCAA finals debut. The Trojans’ second-round, 3-under 285 has them at 2-under 574 for the tournament.
“Everyone on our team is so excited to be out here and just so eager,” Crocker said. “I don’t think any of us slept coming into here. … We just want it a lot.”
While they’re excited to be leading, the Trojans don’t need much experience to know that there’s a lot of golf left. Four days remain, including 36 holes of stroke play and three rounds of match play before a winner is crowned on Wednesday.
“There’s so much time left in the event, it’s sort of hard to savor much at this point,” USC head coach Chris Zambri said. “Just kind of need to put our heads down and keep going.”
Last year, USC finished last in stroke play at the NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes. Hoey and senior Eric Sugimoto, who is the fifth guy for the Trojans this week, were on that team and don’t have many good memories from that championship.
“It wasn’t really fun,” Hoey said.
Zambri was sent his team’s scoreboard from Prairie Dunes, what he calls “a full version of our debacle.” It’s currently rolled up behind his desk.
“Bad week, bad golf,” Zambri said.
It’s been a different story so far this week at Concession. Crocker called his team underdogs Saturday, but right now the Trojans are top dogs.
In January, Sean Crocker fired 67 in the final round of the AmateurGolf.com San Diego County Amateur, setting a competitive (men's) course record from the back tees. He won the tournament.