Josh McCarthy (Photo by Jeff Golden)
College golfers get the opportunity to play in front of cameras so infrequently that the exposure that brings is not at all lost on coaches – or players. Pepperdine head coach Michael Beard knew where the cameras would be during the final round of the Prestige, an event livestreamed on Golfweek.com, and he knew his men needed to be in contention to be there.
During the second round of the 54-hole event at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Pepperdine outplayed every team but leader LSU and worked its way into Wednesday’s final pairing.
“That was kind of our main reason to get in there,” Beard said. “…Two or three years ago, it might be something that our guys were looking at as something new. But I think now that we’ve done it a few times – we have these guys that are juniors now – I don’t think that it was something out of their element at all.”
Pepperdine started the final day in third, within striking distance of LSU and top-ranked Oklahoma State, but ended the day 13 shots out of second.
The Waves have been in the Prestige field each of the 19 years it has been played, and were second to Oklahoma State last year by one shot. This year, when presenting sponsor Charles Schwab brought a Golfweek.com live stream into the picture, it opened up a bigger opportunity for Pepperdine to make a few headlines. They delivered a performance worthy of that.
Beard, a former Wave, hopes this is the future of college golf – even if just six events per year were broadcast to a larger audience, it would give the sport unprecedented exposure. Throughout the week at PGA West, Beard was sending the livestream link to as many contacts as possible – the Pepperdine Athletic department, incoming players, family and friends.
So much of college golf is being in the right place at the right time, and that applies in several ways. PGA West’s Norman Course can be downright penal (which is the reason there were so many double bogeys sprinkled on scorecards – from the top of the leaderboard to the bottom), but Beard’s men are disciplined. Even better, they’re able to keep the ball in front of them. The Waves successfully ran the opening gauntlet each day and reached a middle stretch of holes where they could score.
That, of course, left them in position to play beside two of the best teams in the nation. But Pepperdine is creeping into that conversation anyway. After two fall wins, the Waves are ranked No. 13 in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings. They carried the third-best ranking into the Prestige field. Clay Feagler was the third highest-ranked player, behind two well-known Oklahoma State giants, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff. Feagler was also the defending champion at PGA West.
Over the next month, Pepperdine will play the Southern Highlands Collegiate and the Western Intercollegiate. The first will be livestreamed much like the Prestige was, and the Western – the longest-running tournament west of the Mississippi – will be broadcast live on Golf Channel. They’re two of the most competitive events on the spring schedule.
“We couldn’t have the ranking that we have now without playing those elite events,” Beard said. “…It’s easier to climb in the rankings when you’re playing stronger fields.”
Pepperdine was barely inside the top 100 in Golfweek’s
rankings at the end of the 2013-14 season. Two years later they were inside the top 50. Pepperdine was 13th at the 2017 NCAA Championship, and the Waves finished last season ranked No. 25.
Then there’s this detail – which Beard finds himself forgetting often as he watches his team contend. Arguably the Waves’ best player is redshirting this season after battling a wrist injury. Sahith Theegala, who compiled the best scoring average in program history in his previous three seasons, made that difficult decision after the U.S. Amateur in August – weeks before Pepperdine’s first fall start.
With Theegala in the lineup this season, how different could things be?
“I’m proud of our guys and how they’ve found a way to compete with a big piece of our team absent,” Beard said. “We only lost to Oklahoma State by five the third round (at the Prestige).”
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AMATEUR PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
: After an opening 6-under 66 at the Australian Ladies Classic, amateur Doey Choi had the first-round lead. The Australian hardly fizzled from there, as amateurs sometimes do after a big start in a professional event.
Choi was a storyline all the way through the event, co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour. She followed with rounds of 74-72-72 and a 4-under finish left her inside the top 5 at the end of 72 holes. Choi made three consecutive birdies at Nos. 8-10 in the final round, and briefly held the lead again.
So who is Choi? The 19-year-old was co-medalist at the Australia Women’s Amateur earlier this year, but fell in the Round of 16 in the match-play event. She also fell in the Round of 16 at the New South Wales Amateur, where she in 2014 and logged a runner-up finish in 2018.
Choi was also runner-up at the IMG Academy Junior World Championship last summer. She made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior before losing to Lucy Li.
TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
Dustin Johnson World Junior, TPC Myrtle Beach (S.C.), March 1-3
Ninety of the top juniors in the world will play the event staged on one of Myrtle Beach’s gems. Defending champions Alexa Pano and Michael Brennan will both be back. The DJ event has become the
junior event of the spring.
Southern Highlands Collegiate, Southern Highlands GC, Las Vegas, March 3-5
This is an event that’s long drawn one of the top fields in college golf, and this year, the event will be live-streamed much like last week’s Prestige. Florida will be back to defend, and also keep an eye on Pepperdine (obviously…see above).
Querencia Cabo Collegiate, Querencia Golf Club, Los Cabos, Mexico, 3-5
LSU and top-ranked Oklahoma State just went head to head down the stretch at the Prestige, and they’re both in the field in Cabo. Oklahoma State is the defending champion in the event. Other notable teams include Florida State and Arizona State, which is coming off a win at the John Burns Collegiate.
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STAT OF THE WEEK:
Arizona State’s John Burns Collegiate win was a major breakthrough for Arizona State after a season that has included four runner-up finishes. The Sun Devils, No. 15 in the Golfweek
/Sagarin College Rankings, haven’t finished outside the top 5 yet. They finished three shots ahead of Texas A&M for the John Burns win.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
: Is there a more intimidating trophy in all of amateur golf?