UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a top five finish at the NCAA Washington Regional, Penn State men's golf is headed to Sugar Grove, Illinois for the 2017 NCAA Championships.
Advancing past the regional round for the first time since 2010, the Nittany Lions are making their fifth appearance at the NCAA Championships under the direction of head coach Greg Nye.
"I think we're really starting to peak as a team and everyone's game is kind of coming into place and this last tournament kind of showed that," junior Cole Miller said.
Miller is coming off of his fifth individual title of the year, having captured the individual championship at the Washington regional at 7-under. Freshman Ryan Davis also stepped up for an eighth-place finish, concluding the event at 1-under.
Miller, a second team All-Big Ten honoree, and sophomore Charles Huntzinger, a unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection were the only two Nittany Lions with NCAA regionals experience headed into the event, which has now provided a wealth of youth on the roster with valuable postseason familiarity.
"You have to be able to play well to get through and to be able to play well as a team and make it through as a team is just the greatest thing," Miller said. "I've had a smile on my face ever since we've got through and it's been amazing. To be able to share it with teammates makes it all the more better."
The Nittany Lions now turn their focus toward navigating the course at Rich Harvest Farms, home to Northern Illinois' men's and women's golf squads. Having never competed on the course as a team, Penn State head coach Greg Nye has relied on a variety of reports from those who have, but still a bit of uncertainty remains.
"We talked a bit about when we don't hit it perfect, what's our approach going to be on this golf course that looks like it's going to be, in the numbers, very penal, so we have to be very smart about how we go about taking on targets out in Chicago," Penn State head coach Greg Nye said.
A welcome report though comes from Huntzinger, the only Nittany Lion who has played the course, having competed at the Western Amateur Championship a few years ago prior to Penn State.
"It's definitely one of the nicer courses I've played, it's a very difficult course," Huntzinger said. "Being able to compare that golf course with some of the ones we've played this year, seeing how we've played, comparing notes, I think we're in a good spot and we're looking forward to it."
For both Miller and Huntzinger though, regardless of the course, it all comes down to the work that goes in before Friday arrives.
"We're kind of the fighter team, with balancing with everything on the course, as long as you're prepared, usually just about any golf course you'll be able to handle so from there on it's just preparation work," Miller said. "You have to study the course really well."
Freshman Alec Bard will have a different kind of familiarity come Friday, as he and his brother Derek Bard, will be the only set of siblings squaring off in the upcoming NCAA Championships in Sugar Grove. Derek, a senior a Virginia, helped UVA to a fourth-place finish at the Baton Rouge Regional with a 12th-place finish.
"It's his last college tournament ever so for us to be able to qualify and for this to be the one chance we'll play in the same tournament, our family is definitely excited," Alec said.
The NCAA Championships format consists of three days of stroke play, spanning 54 holes from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 28 featuring 30 teams and six individuals. Monday will feature a final day of 18-hole stroke play narrowed down to 15 teams and nine individuals, with eight teams advancing to match play.
Match play features two rounds to crown a 72-hole individual NCAA national champion, with the team national champion field determined by a match play quarterfinal and semifinal round Tuesday, May 30, with finals closing out the event on Wednesday, May 31.