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Armed with confidence and experience, members of the Linfield men’s golf team depart Saturday morning for Greensboro, N.C., where the Wildcats will represent the Northwest Conference at the NCAA Division III Championships.
Linfield captured its third NWC title in four seasons last month under Coach Greg Copeland, earning the conference’s automatic berth to the national championship tournament.
The Wildcats take measureable experience to North Carolina. Two Wildcats, senior Yutaro Sakamoto and junior Alex Fitch, have each competed previously at the NCAA Championships, most recently in 2009. That year, Linfield failed to advance beyond the initial cut, placing 25th in the final standings.
“Both Yutaro and Alex didn’t play to their capabilities (in 2009),” said Copeland. “With two years of added maturity, I feel they are both going to be more calm and relaxed.
“Yutaro is definitely working his way around golf courses and playing a lot smarter than two years ago. And Alex is just a grinder. He doesn’t give up – no matter what happened on his last hole. Both of their short games are very good and I think they are going to continue to have success.”
“All three of those guys are wildcards for us,” said Copeland. “We’ll have to see how they respond. If the wheels start to come off, can they keep them on?”
Forty teams and five select individuals will compete for top honors at Greensboro's Grandover Resort. Practice rounds commence Monday with actual competition starting Tuesday.
The five-member Linfield delegation will be setting the hotel alarm clocks early after the Wildcats drew an early Tuesday tee time of 7 a.m. With the time difference, that translates to 4 o’clock on the morning on the West Coast. The ‘Cats are paired on the opening hole with Penn State-Harrisburg.
All competitors will play a minimum of 36 holes before the field is pared to 15 teams, plus the next highest five individuals not affiliated with an advancing team.
Copeland said he’ll develop a game plan Monday following the team’s practice round. “We’ll find out what the courses are like and come up with a strategy geared toward the ability of our golfers.”
Fitting of a national championship venue, both courses are rated high for their degree of difficulty, said Copeland.
Methodist is the defending Division III men’s team champion. Tain Lee of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is the defending medalist. Fitch, the NWC medalist, was runner-up behind Lee at the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen Invitational.
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