The consensus preseason NCAA favorites cleared a big hurdle Wednesday in La Quinta, California.
Texas, which hadn’t won an official stroke-play event since it hosted an NCAA regional last spring, picked up a much-needed victory against an elite field at The Prestige at PGA West. The Longhorns, ranked No. 1 to begin the season but 25th to start the spring, clipped current top-ranked Pepperdine by six shots.
Here are some takeaways from Texas’ team triumph in the Coachella Valley:
Soos gets loose
With so many talented underclassmen on Texas’ roster, it’s easy to overlook senior Spencer Soosman.
Soosman cracked the lineup three times in the fall, tying for 15th to lead the fifth-place Longhorns at the Nike Collegiate, winning three matches at Big 12 Match Play and finishing 19th (or second to last) in the 18-hole stroke-play portion of the East Lake Cup, which Texas won. Soosman earned an individual spot at the spring-opening Amer Ari Invitational, but he tied for 33rd, his worst finish of the young season.
With the emergence of Christoffer Bring and a couple of other freshmen in Mason Nome and Will Thomson who have played their way into the lineup already, Soosman has certainly been pushed. At PGA West, he finally responded in a big way, closing in 65 to finish third, leading the team.
Hammer wasn’t even in full swing
Soosman’s play helped offset another disappointing finish by sophomore stud Cole Hammer.
Hammer tied for 21st at PGA West, which isn’t terrible, but for a preseason Haskins Award favorite, it’s far from what was expected of Hammer. That finish came on the heels of Hammer’s T-56 showing in Hawaii, where he shot 65 in the opening round. Hammer also was T-42 at the Nike in the fall and has only one top-10 finish in stroke-play tournaments this season.
There is some positive to be taken from Hammer’s struggles, though. Texas is nearly a top-10 team in Golfstat and just beat the hottest team in the country without its star player firing on all cylinders. When Hammer figures it out, Texas could be scary good.
Last November at the East Lake Cup, Texas head coach John Fields flew Bring in late to Atlanta because he wasn’t sure if sophomore Pierceson Coody, who was battling a left shoulder injury, would be able to go.
Coody ended up playing and tied for second in stroke play at the East Lake Cup before going 0-1-1 in match play. He then opened the spring with a solo fifth in Hawaii before tying for sixth at The Prestige.
Judging by his play, Coody is back at full strength.
Texas has traditionally come alive in the spring. Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, which culminated in an NCAA title at Riviera, the Longhorns have won seven tournaments in the fall and now a whopping 28 in the spring.
Yes, there are about twice as many tournaments in the spring, but that number includes some of the toughest events to win (i.e. NCAAs, regional, Big 12s, etc.) and the ratio is pretty significant.
Could this Texas team do what the Longhorns did in 2015-16, when Texas went winless in the fall, won seven times in the spring and finished runner-up to Oregon in the NCAA final?
Through 36 holes it looked like Pepperdine freshman William Mouw might be on his way to a second straight victory. But Mouw carded 76 in the final round to drop all the way to T-34. He’s still the current Phil Mickelson Award favorite, but the gap is a bit smaller between Mouw and his competition. … That’s the Austin Eckroat we’ve been waiting for. In what has been a clear rebuilding year in Stillwater, the Oklahoma State junior star had yet to grab the reigns on this team after it lost studs Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland to the pros after last season. However, Eckroat closed in 64 to finish runner-up, his best finish of the season. Oklahoma State continued its maturation, as well, placing fifth. … Texas Tech senior Sandy Scott might drop off the first page of the Haskins Watch List after his T-42 finish. … San Diego State had a nice week, finishing third and boasting the individual medalist, Leo Oyo, who edged Eckroat by a shot a year after finishing last in this event.