Field set for NCAA West Regional

Eight Pac-10 golf teams, including UW, headline 27-team field.

Mark May 15-17 on your calendar if you’re a Husky, golf enthusiast or just a casual sports fan, because the NCAA Men’s Golf West Regional — hosted by the University of Washington — is coming to Gold Mountain Golf Complex in Bremerton, the field of competitors set.

Pitting one-third of the nation’s top collegiate golfers against each other, the three-day NCAA’s will bring world-class golf to Kitsap County.

“I’m really excited about the field we’ve got... (it has) huge names, huge programs (and is) extremely complete,” seven-year UW men’s golf coach Matt Thurmond said Tuesday, describing the 27 teams and six individuals, totaling 141 golfers, who will be in action beginning Thursday.

Drawing the No. 21-seed, the Huskies will join the University of Kentucky (No. 19) and the University of Wisconsin (No. 20) for a 7 a.m. tee time on the 10th hole, teeing off for the first of three 18-hole rounds.

“They’ll be wide-eyed and nervous, anxious and excited,” Thurmond said of the five players — four of whom will make their NCAA regional debut — representing the Purple and Gold. “It’s going to be a great test of golf.”

Making its 13th consecutive NCAA regional appearance, UW will bring senior Zach Bixler and the four newcomers — Nick Taylor, Darren Wallace, John Wise and Tze Huang Choo — to Gold Mountain, looking to finish in the top 10 and advance to the NCAA championships, scheduled for May 28-31 in West Lafayette, Ind.

“We’re certainly shooting for advancing,” Thurmond said, his team looking to get back to the championships after missing out last year for the first time in eight seasons.

Playing close to home and on a course they’re familiar with, the Huskies should have a slight advantage over the rest of the field.

“We’re familiar with the course and comfortable with it,” Thurman said.

UW finished runner-up to Oregon State at the Husky Invite at Gold Mountain last October, the team’s most recent tournament action on the course.

Widely known in the golf world as a tough-yet-fair course, Thurmond called Gold Mountain “US Open-caliber” and predicted the course’s fast greens will result in high scores, especially for teams not accustomed to putting on quick surfaces.

“Teams from the Southeast don’t play greens this fast very often,” he said, referring to squads like No. 3-seed Florida State and No. 5-seed Clemson, both expected to contend for the 2008 national title. “At Gold Mountain, I expect the scores to be high.”

No. 1 USC, No. 2 UCLA and defending champions No. 4 Stanford round out the field’s top-five teams.

While the field of teams is strong top to bottom, individual competition will be ripe too as six golfers whose teams did not qualify for a regional bid will square off, the top two advancing to nationals.

“The depth of the individual field is very strong,” Thurmond said.

Ranked No. 13 in the Golfweek Sagarin Performance Index Top-50 and winner of five consecutive events, Boise State’s Troy Merrit — the 2008 WAC Player of the Year — appears the favorite to win the individual competition.

“He’s not just winning, he’s winning by a lot,” Thurmond said of Merritt, a Division II transfer.

With Gold Mountain playing host, this year’s regional competition also brings two local golfers — Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley and Tacoma’s Andrew Putnam — back to their old stomping grounds.

Stanley, a sophomore at Clemson and last year’s ACC Player of the Year, finished third in the 2007 East Regional, while Putnam, a freshman at Pepperdine, earned 2008 West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year honors. Both figure to play a key role on their respective teams’ success.

Admission to the event is free and Scott Alexander, Gold Mountain director of golf, hopes to see a nice spectator turnout.

“That’s one of our goals,” he said, “to get people out here.”

An autographed football by UW football coach Tyrone Willingham, tickets to the Oct. 18 UW-Oregon State football game, a set of golf clubs and other prizes will be available during daily drawing giveaways.

Gold Mountain Golf Complex is located at 7263 W. Belfair Valley Road in Bremerton.

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