Courtesy of UCR Athletics

UCR’s men’s golf finished the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate Tournament with a 19th place showing on Sunday, Feb. 19. Going into the final day of the tournament, the Highlanders shot a team score of 298, following up on their team-best second round performance of 293. The final round individual scores saw Sam Gillis shoot a 73, Pachara Sakulyong 74, Andrew Spillman 76, Matt Lutz 75 and Michael Wong 81.

In the face of the poor finish, UCR Head Coach Rick Todd’s confidence in this team was not shaken at all. In fact, Todd believes his team should be more confident in their own abilities and stop second-guessing themselves. “It’s a tough enough game when you’re thinking properly,” explained Todd, “It’s a lot more difficult when you start second guessing yourself.” He also mentioned that his team “trusts their stuff in practice, but once they get on the golf course they don’t trust it.” Of course, playing holes 7-11, which Todd described as the toughest holes of the tournament, with unfavorable wind conditions, did not help the Highlanders’ confidence or scores.

Despite the back-to-back tournament struggles, Todd believes his team is finding their stride one piece at a time through this winter season. The return of Gillis, who was sidelined much of the fall due to illness, to the lineup was not an instant fix, but it has helped the five-man competition squad. Todd believes his return has allowed the other four players to, “Relax knowing he’s (Gillis) going to shoot a good score which has straightened the other guys up a little bit, and let them take some chances out there.”

Fortunately for Todd and his team, Lutz has been a reliable player even in Gillis’ absence, which is to be expected of the player who represented the Highlanders in the NCAA Nationals last year. Todd admitted that Lutz had been in need of more confidence coming into a the winter, but he believes a swing change has helped Lutz reestablish himself on the course. The two youngest members of the five-man travel squad, sophomores Spillman and Wong, have also impressed Todd this season by building on the success they had in last season’s run to regionals.

The Highlanders are still very much in control of their own destiny moving through the winter season and into the spring. There are still four more tournaments spanning over a two-month period for Todd’s squad to rediscover their confidence and to get comfortable on the course. As Todd puts it, “We have lots of time. There’s no reason to panic. It all comes down to the conference (Big West) tournament. As long as we’re in good shape for conference, we’ll be fine.”

Ultimately, the Highlanders already possess the skills and experience for another Big West Tournament win, it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces back together. As Todd mentioned, there is still plenty of time left, which serves this team well. Gillis is reacclimating to competition and Lutz is finding his rhythm again.

The Highlanders are back on the course Monday, Feb. 27 through Tuesday, Feb. 28 for the 21st Del Walker Intercollegiate in Long Beach, California. Tee-off begins at 9 a.m.