PULLMAN – Washington State can’t match teams boasting some of the best amateur golfers in the world at this week’s Pac-12 tournament. But the Cougars have something on their side more valuable perhaps even than Arizona State’s top-ranked Jon Rahm Rodriguez: The Palouse Ridge Golf Club.
Washington State’s home course, one of the nation’s best according to Golfweek, will serve as the site of the Pac-12 golf tournament, which begins today and concludes Wednesday. The course poses a number of unique challenges that will be old-hat to the Cougars but foreign to the visitors.
Palouse Ridge plays at 7,257 yards but will be a par-70, making it a longer than a typical course. Additionally, there are three par-5s and five par-3s, one more of each than most of the participants will be used to.
Palouse Ridge is a fun course if you know how to play it, but a nightmare for the uninitiated. The elevation changes constantly, which can make club selection a challenge. The greens are fast, and protected by precipitous drops that punish too much muscle with a multi-stroke journey back to the flag.
“If the wind picks up it will be fairly tough,” says WSU’s No. 1 golfer, Sang Lee. “It’s not a course that you know what’s out there. It’s not that straightforward. It might seem like it off the tee but going into the greens you don’t know where your ball’s going to bounce and stuff like that.”
The course’s difficulty is mostly due to the number of potential pitfalls, giving a distinct advantage perhaps to a lesser player with a better knowledge of the course.
“I have a lot of players that can play this course very well, so I would put my four, five, and six guy, on this golf course, against any others in the conference,” WSU coach Garrett Clegg said.
And it will be those players on the back end of the spectrum that will make the difference in the tournament. In most tournaments, teams play five golfers and the top four scores per team are used to determine the team’s overall score. But the Pac-12 allows six golfers in its conference tournament and top five scores are used, so depth will be paramount.
The Cougars are not especially deep by Pac-12 standards, but again, they know the course. So while ASU may have the best amateur in the world in Rahm-Rodriguez, and Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf rankings, it will be the less-heralded golfers that determine whether or not WSU can achieve its goal of finishing in the conference’s upper half.
Doing so is no easy feat because the Pac-12 is so tough. The conference has seven schools ranked in the Top 25 including the defending Pac-12 champion, No. 12 Stanford. While Utah’s Jonathon Thomas has shown the ability to tame Palouse Ridge, setting a course record 8-under 62 there in the fall, the Utes have been uncompetitive with the rest of the Pac-12 this spring.
The Golfstat computer rankings have WSU at No. 73 in the country, which puts the Cougars at No. 9 in the league.
But those rankings can’t account for the ingrained knowledge the Cougars have of their own course. Or how higher-ranked teams might struggle on a windy Pullman spring day.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, pretty much, is the fact that we’re going to have that home-court advantage,” Lee said. “And this is a course where that really comes into effect because it’s very easy for other teams to hit it in the wrong spots.”
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