The Vanderbilt University Men's Golf team tees off tomorrow at 12:42 PM CT in the NCAA Championships along with 29 other teams, as we set our sights on taking it 2 steps farther than last year when we were victorious in the stroke play event and advanced all the way to the Final Four at Rich Harvest Farms Golf Course 60 miles outside of Chicago. This year, our 4th ranked team tees it up with with No.5 seed Alabama and No.6 seed Florida tomorrow at 12:42 PM and Saturday at 7:22 AM CT.
The NCAA Championship will hold 3 days of stroke play competition, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, 54 holes, and after 54 holes, the 30 team field will be cut to 15. The 15 teams will play a fourth day of stroke play on Monday and the top 8 teams after 72 holes will advance to the 8 team match play competition. The quarterfinals will commence on Tuesday morning, the semifinals will take place Tuesday afternoon, and the championship match will be held on Wednesday. Golf Channel will televise the final stroke play round from 3-7 PM CT on Monday, the quarterfinals Tuesday from 10 AM-12:30 PM, the semifinals Tuesday from 3-7 PM CT, and the championship match Wednesday from 3-7 PM CT.
We and the other 29 teams will play Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Oklahoma, home to the No.1 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys. Karsten Creek is a 7,416 yard, par 72 layout. Key holes are Numbers 15-18. Number 15 is a 215 yard, par 3, that is well bunkered around the green. The green is the largest and most severely sloped on the golf course, so putting will be tricky. The 16th is a 471 yard, par 4, that is a slight dogleg right with a sloping left to right fairway protected on the right by a large tree and a fairway bunker. The green is very large and surrounded by sand. The hole is a glimpse of 3 of the best finishing holes in golf according to the Tulsa World.
No.17 is a 471 yard, par 4 that is considered by many as the most challenging hole on the course. It's uphill off the tee into a prevailing wind. The tee shot must carry 180 yards to clear the lake. The fairway is extremely tight with large trees and dense undergrowth on either side. The approach is typically 200 yards and into the wind, which could very well be a factor. If the competitor hits it left, the ball will kick down into the lake. Tough hole. No. 18 is a 551 yard, par 5 that is downhill and normally downwind. It has a chance to give up quite a few birdies and maybe some eagles. However, the player's tee shot must carry 241 yards to clear the lake and the entire length of the hole is bordered by Lake Louise to the left. Big numbers could loom for risk takers. The green sets the stage for an electric finish to the championship round.
The weather looks hot all weekend and into next week. Tomorrow 91, winds 9 to 15, chance of a t storm: Saturday, sunny, 94, wind 7-10; Sunday, sunny, 96, winds 8-12; Monday, sunny, 95, wind 10-15; Tuesday, sunny to partly cloudy, 95, 10-15 winds; Wednesday, Sunny, 97, winds 12-17. So the intense heat and the wind will be a factor for the last 5 days of the tournament.
Coach Scott Limbaugh will send senior Theo Humphrey, juniors Will Gordon and Patrick Martin, sophomore John Augenstein and redshirt freshman Mason Greenberg onto the course. The championship will take the top 4 scores each day to compute the winner in stroke play and the top 15 and ultimately top 8 finishers.
Humphrey grew up and lived in New York City until he was 15, when his family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he spent his years in high school before coming to Vanderbilt to play. Theo has had a well decorated career and was named as the SEC Player of the Year this season. I spoke with Theo on Tuesday and here's what our talented senior had to see as his team prepares for the ultimate opportunity in college golf.
DW: How's life, how's golf going right now?
TH: It's going pretty well. Prepared and ready for the NCAA's in Oklahoma. Hope we can finish the season off the right way.
DW: I know you were selected SEC player of the year, what does that mean to you?
TH: It's a huge honor. A lot of great players have been able to win that. To be in that company and be rewarded for my good play this season is obviously exciting and something I'll always remember and be proud that I achieved.
DW: Tell me about growing up in Greenwich. That's an interesting place to grow up. And tell me about your family.
TH: My parents met in college at Fordham University in New York City and they're life long New Yorkers. I was born out in Chicago actually, my parents moved there for a brief period of time. I lived in New York City until I was 15 and then the last few years we've lived in the suburbs in Greenwich, Connecticut. I love the Northeast. It's been a great place to grow up and play golf. The weather is not as good as it is in the south but there are so many unbelievable golf courses to play on, so from that perspective it's been great.
DW: What courses do you like playing up there?
TH: My favorite course I've played is Winged Foot. I live about 10 minutes from there, and I have some friends who are members. I get to play there a good bit. My home course is Sleepy Hollow, it's a C.B. MacDonald course on the Hudson River and it's really nice and a lot fun to play.
DW: What are your parents' names and what are they doing?
TH: Tom and Cynthia. My dad works in finance at a small investment bank called Guggenheim. My mom currently does not work, but she is a lawyer.
DW: Tell me about your siblings.
TH: I have a 17 year old sister, Ava , who has one more year left in high school before college, and she's figuring out her college plans. She does horseback riding. I don't think she knows the answer if she will do Equestrian in college. She'll have to see how it all falls.
DW: What schools is she looking at right now.
TH: She' ll be looking this summer and early fall.
DW: Theo, you had a heckuva summer making the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, tell me about that experience.
TH: Last summer. I finished second at the Northeast Am, I finished second at the Players AM, and obviously making it to the semifinals of the U.S. Am was a really fun week. My dad caddied for me, which was a lot of fun. He's done it a couple of times before, but that was the first time on a big stage, so we had a lot of fun together. It would have been nice to win one or two more matches, but I think everything kind of happens for a reason.
DW: Where was the event played?
TH: Riviera in LA.
DW: Did you learn from that experience how to compete even better for your senior year?
TH: I don't know if I learned how to compete any better, but it definitely helped prove to me that I'm one of the best players in college golf and I can take confidence from that when I'm playing this year knowing I can beat those guys.
DW: Are you pleased with how your senior year has gone so far?
TH: Yes, I have. It's been a good year. There are a couple of shots here and there that I wish I could get back in a couple of final rounds. I've been playing some great golf and winning an event this spring was awesome. Being around guys who make me better has been awesome too.
DW: You won the Schenkel Invitational (in Georgia)?
TH: That's correct.
DW: I know it's late in the season, but is there a part of your game you want to hone up before the NCAA's?
TH: I've been practicing my chipping this past week. It's normally the best part of my game, but at (NCAA) regionals it was pretty bad, so I'm trying to get back to knowing what I'm good at, and put in a little extra time and take confidence in that and it'll be better this week.
DW: Theo, golf is such a confidence game, so how do you maintain that confidence even if things aren't going as well?
TH: I think a couple bad tournaments here and there or a couple of bad rounds, it's easier to keep the confidence because you know the work has been really good. Having said that, going through bad stretches of golf, it's tough because you have to see some results after a while. Thankfully, I haven't gone through that in a while, I've been confident and that's allowed me to play some good golf.
DW: Tell me about this team. You have everybody back from a team that made the Final Four last year except Matthias (Schwab), a lot of veterans. Do you need to lead or with the experience with Will, Patrick, and John you don't need to lead as much? How do you feel about that?
TH: I think in terms of how to play the golf course and how to handle the moments, the pressure, I don't need to lead in that regard. Those guys have been there. We go about things differently but we all know what we're doing. But I think on the course leading by example, telling these guys the right things and kind of being somebody they can look up to because I am the only senior. And in the smaller things, being a leader is important. In terms of how to hit your 7 iron, where you need to hit it, I don't need to lead those guys there. They know what they're doing.
DW: Do you like being a senior in a leadership role?
TH: Yes, it's fun. I like being impactful on the other guys and help them out. Just kind of show them how to do it the right way. I love it.
DW: How is it playing for Coach Limbaugh?
TH:Limbaugh has meant a lot to me. He's taught me so much, not only as a player, but I've grown up so much as a person. I attribute everything to him. He's really pushed me a lot in all the best ways. He's someone I can trust. He's helped me take what I have and make me as good of a player as I can be, and he's really prepared me for professional golf.
DW: I know you're totally locked in this weekend, but what are your goals in golf, your future goals.
TH: I never have been a super goal oriented person. I've kind of always thought about one day, one week at a time and do the best at what I have that week. I've been told I do a lot of things well, and if I do what I can hopefully that'll be good enough, though I can't control what the other guys do.
DW: What are you going to get your degree in?
DW: What will you do with that after golf?
TH: I really don't know,. Golf is what I've always wanted to do, but at the same time I know the reality is it doesn't work out for everybody. I've always been a good student and tried my best at school. I know an Econ degree is pretty applicable, so I know I'll have some doors open if golf doesn't work out in a few years.
DW: What is your GPA now?
DW: Tell me this, what do you know about Karsten Creek Golf Course?
TH: I know it's hard and it's a really, really good course. There is definitely a premium on driving the ball in the fairway. They've got some crooked holes and places where you can't find the ball, so playing from the fairway will make it a lot easier. I just know it's a good, fair test and I think it'll be a good golf course for us. Obviously I don't know that, but I feel like it's a pretty good setup.
DW: Your freshman year you made the Elite 8, your sophomore year you made the Elite 8, and last year you made the Final Four. I know the competition is fierce every year, it's amazing what you guys have done. What do you think it'll take to win it all?
TH: I think with the way the format is with 4 rounds of stroke play and match play obviously you need to play good golf to make it into that final 8 and we've done that the last 3 years. In match play, things just have to go your way more than they have for us. Match play is a lot more volatile than stroke play. It doesn't always reward the best team or best player. With that said, I think we've got what it takes to make the match play and we can go from there.
DW: Is there a PGA player you look up to and like to emulate?
TH: Growing up I've always rooted for Phil Mickelson. I was at his first Masters win in 2004 and that's when I started rooting for him. But as far as emulating anybody, not really.
DW: What's your dream foursome?
TH: I think you gotta put Tiger Woods in that. Phil Mickelson as well. And Jack Nicklaus is arguably one of the best players ever, him or Tiger.
DW: You've played a lot of great courses. What are the top courses you've played and tell me why.
TH: I'd say for my favorite course, probably Augusta, that would be my favorite. I'd say Shinnecock where the U.S. Open is this summer. Winged Foot. Those are probably my top 3 that I've played.
DW: What is the hardest course you've played?
TH: When I played it, I would probably say Shinnecock because when I played it, it was so windy. All things being equal, I'd say Winged Foot is the hardest.
DW: Finally, Theo, what makes Augusta so special?
TH: Obviously you're going to be biased with all the history and all the good shots, but that aside, it's just the most beautiful golf course I've ever seen. It's fantastic. It's absolutely incredible. Everything is perfect. It's easier when you have an unlimited budget like they do, but still it's so impressive and so much fun to play.
DW: How fast are the greens there?
TH: They were pretty normal speed not too fast.
DW: How fast will these greens be at Karsten?
TH: They'll be 13, pretty fast.
Note: (Greens are measured by a stimpmeter which is a device that measures the speed of a putting green by applying a known force to a golf ball and measuring the distance traveled if feet. Anything over 10 1/2 is fast, and 13 is very fast, U.S. Open like).
DW: How excited are you for this weekend?
TH: I'm really excited. I've had a great four years here, and this is a great opportunity for me and an even greater opportunity for our team. So I can't wait to get there.
DW: How's your experience been at Vanderbilt?
TH: It's been great. Academically it's been great. I've met a lot of people, friends I'll have for life and obviously the golf, it's been an unbelievable place to be a great player and hopefully that'll continue into my professional career.