By Paul Ramsdell
For the four University of Oregon golfers in the 2017 Sahalee Players Championship, gathering at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. in July will give them a chance to talk again about how close they came to being back-to-back NCAA team champions.
The Ducks, after winning the national title in dramatic fashion on their home course of Eugene Country Club in 2016, made it to the match-play team final at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. at the end of May, before losing 3-1-1 to Oklahoma in the final.
Playing in the July 5-7 Sahalee Players Championship (SPC) from that Oregon team will be Ryan Gronlund, who tied his match in the final against Oklahoma, as well as Sulman Raza and Edwin Yi, who both lost close matches that final day. Kevin Geniza is another Duck in the SPC field, but he wasn’t among the five players in the match play competition for the NCAA title.
For Raza, the defeat against Oklahoma ended his career with the Ducks.
“It was pretty awesome,” he said of their 2016 title, “and then to reach this moment with my teammates and having a chance to repeat, there were definitely a lot of expectations, some nerves, but I’m still so proud of these guys, and I enjoyed every single moment at the University of Oregon.”
There is a strong connection between the Oregon program and the SPC. Casey Martin, the coach at Oregon, won the second SPC in 1993 and went on to a career on the PGA Tour.
Other subsequent SPC winners who went on to play on the PGA Tour include Jason Gore (1996), Arron Oberholser (1997), Ryan Moore (2004), Kyle Stanley (2006), Daniel Summerhays (2007), Nick Taylor (2009) and Peter Uihlein (2010).
“There are a lot of reasons you want to be coaching golf, but this is the icing on the cake,” Martin told a reporter after the NCAA Championships this year. “You want to get to this and have a chance to compete in the national championship. It’s fun and I want to do it some more.”
The defeat in the final was the first for Raza in NCAA Championship match play, where he went 5-1 over two years. The hometown product from Eugene is ranked No. 297 in the world and won the Oregon Duck Invitational earlier this year.
“Certainly what Sulman has done for this program has been so clutch,” Martin said at the NCAAs. “We’ve been through some adversity, and yet here we are enjoying an amazing moment together again, I’m excited for him and his future.”
Raza’s future at Sahalee will include 18 holes on Wednesday, July 5, then 36 holes on Thursday, July 6 and the final 18 holes on Friday, July 7. He’ll be competing against an elite field of 66 leading amateurs from around the world, and the championship was ranked among the top 25 amateur events in the world in 2015 by the Scratch Players Group. The SPC is back after a one-year hiatus last summer when the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was held at Sahalee.
Outside the University of Washington, no other college program has more players connected to its program playing in the SPC this year than Oregon. There are, however, golfers coming from Northwestern, Yale, USC, California, Georgia Tech, Houston, Auburn and Seton Hall. The highest ranked player, at No. 11, is John Oda, who will be a senior next year at UNLV, and qualified for this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Besides chasing a title at Sahalee, Gronlund will have two more chances at the NCAA title with the Ducks. The junior-to-be from Pleasanton, Calif. finished tied for sixth in the Pac-12 Championships and was second team All-Pac-12.
“I’m really happy to be here with them,” he said of his teammates after the NCAA final. “Tough to sit here with the silver medal, but not bad for what we thought would be a rebuilding year.”
Martin also was impressed with the way his Ducks finished off the season.
“Just an incredible run,” he said. “Winning the Pac-12 Championship and getting this far is really special.”
To follow the Sahalee Players Championship, bios of each competitor as well as tee times and pairings are available by visiting www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com. Once the competition begins, live scoring will be available at that site as well.
The Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA) began partnering with the Sahalee in 2000 to create the “Western Swing” by scheduling its Pacific Northwest Men’s Amateur Championship the week following the SPC, to give elite amateur players the opportunity to compete in two quality events on the same trip to the Northwest. The 116th PNGA Men’s Amateur Championship will be held July 10-15, 2017 at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort in Creswell, Ore. Visit www.thepnga.org for more information.