When the Virginia men’s golf team walks up to the first tee Friday morning, the Cavaliers have their sights set on contending for an ACC title.
It’s a reasonable goal.
UVa, a top 35-team nationally, has shown this spring that it can compete with the best. On the flip side, the Cavaliers are the No. 9 seed this week in a stacked conference tournament.
“It’s hard to look at the rankings and feel bad about being ninth when you’re ranked 33rd in the country,” head coach Bowen Sargent said. “Golf is such a fickle game. You see it at the professional level. I mean, a guy that’s ranked 150th can win on any given week, and we could do the same if we put it all together.”
Put it all together. That’s the goal for UVa this week at the City Capital Club’s Crabapple Course in Milton, Georgia. The Cavaliers have shown flashes of brilliance this spring, and they’re aiming for a few days of greatness.
Playing elite golf for the three stroke-play rounds, which take place Friday and Saturday, could put Virginia in the final four. The top four teams after three rounds advance to match play. The semifinals take place Sunday, and the championship match is Monday.
“To get in the final four and make match play, we’ll certainly have to play maybe our best golf to date,” Sargent said.
Reaching that point will be a challenge. Three ACC teams sit in the top five of the national rankings. Florida State checks in at No. 2 nationally, while Clemson sits at No. 4 and Wake Forest isn’t far behind at No. 5. N.C. State, which has won each of its last four tournaments, rounds out the top 10 at No. 10.
To break into that group, the Cavaliers will need a solid week from a few underclassmen.
The team’s top three players in terms of scoring average are all freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore Pietro Bovari leads the team in scoring average, and he’s tied with freshman George Duangmanee for the team lead with five under-par rounds this spring. Chris Fosdick, a freshman, is third in scoring average behind Bovari and Duangmanee.
“They’ve helped us a lot,” graduate student Andrew Orischak said. “It’s really been impressive to see how well they’ve played at such a young part of their college career. Certainly that’s not usual, and they’re gonna play well and they’re gonna play well going forward. Virginia golf is lucky to have them.”
Orischak joins a group of three upperclassmen who complement the youngsters. Seniors WeiWei Gao and Jimmie Massie are among the team’s top six contributors.
The veterans will be important for the Wahoos, as will the youngsters. Sargent felt like his team struggled in its first event of the season in part due to the inexperience on the team. After completing a few events this season, the experience level is growing for the young players.
“We do have a lot of young talent, and I think we have some more coming in over the next two years,” Sargent said. “We are a young team, and it might have been part of the reason we struggled early. Experience is big in this league. It’s big at any level.”
One of the most memorable experiences for the squad this season came in the Timuquana Collegiate at the end of January. The Cavaliers finished third in the three-round event, beating Florida State and Oklahoma State in the process.
The Seminoles and Cowboys are both currently ranked in the top three in the country.
That result, coupled with another third place finish in March, has the Cavaliers hopeful about their chances this week. Virginia knows the ACC is a conference loaded with quality teams, but they firmly believe their best golf stacks up well with their peers.
“We definitely do feel like a bit of the underdog, but with that comes the belief that we can contend and hang with any one of these teams,” Orischak said.