USC junior Steve Lim watched from the fairway as his second shot on the par-4 10th hole drifted right, eventually landing in the greenside bunker.
To make matters worse, his playing partners from Ohio State and UCLA had just stuck their approach shots in the center of the green.
Lim, however, promptly sunk his shot from the sand, birdying the hole and besting his competitors, who had to settle for two-putt pars.
“It didn’t go the way I wanted, but I ended up in the bunker, holed out, and it’s the best thing I could do,” Lim said.
The junior’s adventurous 10th hole provided a microcosm of what was an up-and-down, but ultimately, successful week for the No. 15 USC men’s golf team. Lim’s 7-under par week (68-71-70) led the Trojans at the survive-and-advance NCAA West Regional at the Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
“It was mission accomplished,” USC coach Chris Zambri said. “[Friday and Saturday] were a little shaky but overall we’re happy to dofwhat we needed to do which is get out of here with a spot in nationals.”
USC’s second place finish at 7-under-par guaranteed it a spot in the season’s final tournament, which will be played May 31 through June 5 in Stillwater, Okla. No. 4 UCLA (13-under-par), No. 25 San Diego (even par), No. 28 Ohio State (1-over) and No. 11 Texas (9-over) also qualified for the NCAA championship from the West Regional.
The Trojans got off to a blazing start Thursday, grabbing a nine-stroke lead after the first round at 10-under par.
Freshman Jeffery Kang made eight birdies on his way to an opening round 66, which was good for a two-shot lead. Kang, like the Trojans, cooled off considerably over the next two days though, shooting 76-76 and finishing in a tie for 17th.
“I had a really good start,” Kang said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t play well the rest of the week.”
Sophomore Martin Trainer continued his solid play coming off of his victory at the Pac-10 championships earlier this month. Trainer’s scores of 73-71-69 earned him a seventh place finish at 3-under-par for the tournament.
“I left a lot of shots out there,” Trainer said. “The course wasn’t too tough so I feel like I could have done better, but I’m just happy that we got through as a team.”
Fellow sophomore T.J. Vogel echoed Trainer’s excitement for the team but expressed frustration with his individual results. Vogel, a freshman All-American last season, shot 71-77-74 and finished in a tie for 39th.
“It’s been a struggle,” Vogel said of his sophomore season. “It’s extremely frustrating seeing where I was last year and seeing where I am now. My short game isn’t up to par, my ball striking, just everything is at a level lower than it was at last year, but I’m working hard to get it back to where it was.”
Sophomore Sam Smith shot 78-72-79 and placed 60th, a disappointing finish after his eighth place result at the Pac-10 championship.
Zambri said he had come into the week afraid that the Farms Golf Club course didn’t suit his team and that the abundant hazards could cause the Trojans problems.
“Just coming off our previous event, Pac-10’s, we didn’t hit a lot of fairways so I was a little bit fearful of this type of layout, which is the kind if you hit it sideways, you’re goning to make double and triple [bogeys],” Zambri said. “I’m really happy that we got through.”
The Trojans, however, made it clear their performance at the regional stage was only a means to a greater end.
“It’s all about winning national championships,” Trainer said about the team’s goal. “That’s what USC is about and that’s what we want to do as a team.”