From worst to first: USC shakes off 2014 'debacle'

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BRADENTON, Fla. – Southern Cal finished last at the 2014 NCAA Championship, and reminders are everywhere in head coach Chris Zambri’s office.

Tournament officials kept pestering Zambri for his office address and finally he obliged. Too bad, because what they sent was a huge poster board of the Trojans’ scores at Prairie Dunes. The one that counted most: 49-over 889. 

“I’ve got a huge version of the debacle,” he said Saturday.

Zambri rolled up the poster and stored it behind his desk, but he keeps a smaller version of the scoreboard on his cabinet, for motivation.

Redemption is not what is driving USC to success through two rounds here at Concession, but there’s no mistaking the worst-to-first parallels. 

The Trojans lead the team race at 2-under 574, three shots ahead of Illinois and seven clear of LSU.

“There’s so much golf left that it’s hard to savor much,” Zambri said. “But this course fits some of our strengths.”

Sean Crocker and Rico Hoey are interchangeable as USC’s No. 1 man, and both are in fine form this week. Crocker shook off two early bogeys to fire a 68, while Hoey birdied the last to shoot even. Both are in the top-6 individually.

Crocker says the Trojans are enjoying the fact that they’re flying under the radar, that they’re not one of the top seeds (they’re ranked 13th) and that expectations are low. 

That still doesn’t mean he’s freewheeling it at Concession.

He can’t recall ever being as nervous as he was on his opening hole the last two days. The 10th, where he began his second round Saturday, is a wide-open par 4 with water right and bunkers left, but he stood over his ball and thought the fairway was the size of a hallway.

It doesn’t help that he’s been “fighting a hook” for the past two-and-a-half months, even as he’s established himself as one of the top freshmen in the country, alongside Texas’ Scottie Scheffler and Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris. 

“Knowing that I’ve got four guys depending on me, it gets the nerves and butterflies going,” he said. “It just shows you how big this tournament is. I don’t think any of us have slept. We just want it a lot.”

Crocker bogeyed his opening two holes, then got hot with the putter and birdied 15, eagled 17 (drained a 45-footer) and came home in 33.

“Sean is one of the most comfortable players I’ve ever had,” Zambri said. “The more important the event gets, the better he feels in that situation.” 

The only goal for the Trojans over the next two rounds is to secure one of the eight match-play spots.

Another last-place showing? Nope, not this year.