PINEHURST, N.C. – With nearly two solid weeks of uninterrupted practice under his team's belt, VCU Head Coach Matt Ball believes the Rams will be ready when the Colonial Athletic Association Championships tee off Friday morning at Pinehurst No. 8.
VCU will be seeking its league-record ninth CAA crown. The Rams last won the title in 2009 at Pine Mountain, Ga. VCU placed third last year at The Homestead behind surprise champion Towson and William & Mary.
In order to win the title this year, the Rams will likely have to get past favored UNC Wilmington. VCU is ranked second among CAA schools, according to Golfstat. The Seahawks, ranked 57th nationally, boast four of the five top-rated players in the league. VCU and UNCW have met four times this season, with the Seahawks prevailing on each occasion. Although UNCW has gotten the better of the matchup this season, the Seahawks aren't Ball's primary concern. The Rams are.
"We're still playing against ourselves as opposed to playing against anybody else, Ball said. "That's where our focus will be, just on doing what we do. There's no defense. There's no studying plays and such to see how we can slow down the other team. We just have to do a good job in the practice round and understand where not to hit and where the best places are to hit it."
Although the Rams have not competed on Pinehurst No. 8 this year, they're not complete strangers to the course either. Upperclassmen Mark Jargren and Chase Sargent have played the course in past years. Additionally, Ball took the team to the course for a practice round in the fall while on the way to another tournament, so VCU's entire lineup has some experience on the difficult layout.
Ball says while the 7,200-yard course is of reasonable length, firing at pins could prove problematic, due to Pinehurst's challenging greens.
"Everything down there is sort of in the eyes of Donald Ross, where the greens are like upside-down saucers, so the ball runs off the side of the greens very easily," Ball said. "You can score there. It's not a cake walk, but you can score there. Now, if the greens are firm, it is really tough to score."
The Rams will rely heavily on freshman Matt Ball Jr. and Jargren, the CAA's third and 10th-ranked golfers, respectively. Ball's 73.90 scoring average leads VCU, while Jargren is enjoying a bit of a renaissance this spring.
Earlier this year, Jargren decided he would not pursue a professional golf career. Ball believes that has allowed the senior from Helsingborg, Sweden to play "more carefree". Jargen has been the Rams' top finisher at VCU's most two most-recent tournaments at LSU and Irish Creek. Jargren has also progressed to the point where he can adjust his game on the fly.
"He's hitting the ball more consistently," Coach Ball said. "We've been working on his golf swing since last fall and he's at a point where he's comfortable now and understands now, what he's doing. He has the ability to do some self-correction on the golf course, which he didn't have before."
While Ball hopes that Matt Ball Jr. and Jargen can anchor the top of the VCU lineup, he knows it'll take more than that to capture the trophy.
"We're going to have to have five guys show up and play well," Ball said. "We'll need that fifth man be there when somebody else has a rough day and rough patch that sends his score up a little bit. [UNC Wilmington] has got five very good players, including three guys that have won tournaments."
The 54-hole begins with a shotgun start Friday morning and continues through Sunday.