SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Two weeks ago, Stanford’s Isaiah Salinda watched as his teammate and fellow senior Brandon Wu captured his first college victory at the Cardinal’s home event, The Goodwin.
“It felt like a race between us to see who could get that first win,” Salinda said. “I always had a feeling that we would both get it done at some point this season, and him winning definitely motivated me.”
While Wu may have reached the finish line first, Salinda was right behind him. The San Francisco native, playing on one of his favorite courses in Pasatiempo, earned his maiden college title and then prevailed in a four-hole playoff to take home the coveted letterman’s jacket at the Western Intercollegiate.
His performance also helped Stanford grab its second straight team win.
“I really couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Salinda said.
It’s hard to argue. Two years ago, Salinda held a share of the 36-hole lead at the Western before closing in 76 and tying for fifth. He held a three-shot advantage entering Wednesday’s final round, and after a three-putt bogey on the par-4 17th hole it looked as if he’d suffer a similar fate.
But Salinda dug deep and stuck his tee shot at the difficult par-3 finishing hole to 4 feet. He drained the slippery, downhill birdie putt to cap an even-par 70 that included four bogeys and get into a playoff with San Jose State’s Sean Yu at 8 under.
After two more trips to the 18th hole resulted in matching pars, Yu delivered an impressive par save on the par-4 10th hole after pulling his drive into the left rough. A hole later, on the par-4 17t, Salinda avoided another three-putt and sunk a 5-footer to stay alive.
The back-and-forth battle looked primed for several more holes after both players hit two more solid tee shots into the closing one-shotter. But after Yu rolled his 15-footer by the hole, Salinda stepped up and knocked in his 7-footer.
“That was such an awesome way to finish,” Wu said. “We were holding our breath hoping for him to make that, but we were all confident he was going to, as well.”
Salinda has always had a knack for being clutch, but it wasn’t until last summer that he was able to close. He won the Pacific Coast Amateur and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur before heading back to school for his senior year.
Stanford head coach Conrad Ray credits the development to Salinda learning how to play well without his best stuff. On the final walk across the wooden bridge that connects the tee box and green at Pasatiempo’s 18th, Salinda turned to Ray and mentioned how good it felt to have won without his best stuff. (The NCAA doesn’t recognize playoffs, so Salinda and Yu technically share the individual medal.)
“I love to hear that as a coach because it’s a sign of maturity,” Ray said. “He’s gotten over the fact that he doesn’t have to hit it perfect to win.”
With Salinda, Stanford’s eighth Western medalist, and Wu breaking through in back-to-back events, Stanford looks poised to build on the program’s 10th Western title. Ranked 16th in the country, the Cardinal head to Eugene Country Club this weekend for the Pac-12 Championship. The tournament will be the team’s second six-count-five event.
For Stanford, it’s another chance to show off its depth.
The Cardinal threw out a 3-over 73 on Wednesday as it topped Cal by six shots at 10 under. Four other players behind Salinda finished in the top 20 – David Snyder and individual Freddie Lee at T-17, and Henry Shimp and Wu at T-11. Wu made six straight birdies in the final round en route to a 5-under 65.
“I think we’re deeper than a lot of teams in the country,” Salinda said. “We really feel like anyone who plays in our lineup could go ahead and win.”
Last week it was Wu. Wednesday it was Salinda. Two seniors who are now more determined than ever to finish strong.
Wu and Salinda have played in three NCAA Championships, but have yet to make match play. In fact, the Cardinal have missed the first cut in each of the past three seasons.
“I know we haven’t had much success at NCAAs,” Salinda said. “It’s something that’s in the back of our minds and we’ll definitely use that to fuel us.”
The tank certainly isn’t empty leaving Pasatiempo. Let another race begin.