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UW not sweating the Texas heat

When a golf team is two tournaments away from the biggest competition of the year, it could be difficult for them to focus.

This team doesn’t seem to think so.

The Washington men’s golf team is three weeks away from the Pac-12 Championships in Los Angeles. But the biggest tournament of the year is preceded by two other tournaments. One of them is the Texas A&M Aggie Invite, teeing off Saturday and ending Sunday.

The format presents a conundrum for head coach Matt Thurmond as he prepares the Huskies for a preeminent event while taking care of business in less prestigious tournaments.

“I believe in giving a lot of effort every time and just trying to get better,” Thurmond said. “But I also believe in building your game and your mental makeup to peak at certain times.

“Our goal is to be the best at the Pac-12s and the NCAA Championships,” he said.

And the UW will need its games to peak when it enters the Pac-12 tournament. California, the defending Pac-12 champion, looks like a dominant powerhouse and a team Thurmond called “the best team I’ve ever seen in college golf.”

The Pac-12 Championship chase looks like a task so daunting it could be hard to focus on the 54-hole Texas tournament. The upside, however, is the opportunity to build confidence moving forward, freshman Jonathan Sanders said. The UW has not played as well as Sanders had hoped.

But the Huskies have the ability to bounce back when they don’t play very well. The team was ranked 17th out of 18 teams after the first round of the Bandon Dunes Championship on March 8, then rallied to finish third. Sanders, who saw his score dip to 5-over at one point of the Oregon Duck Invitational this past weekend, hit birdies on four of the last seven holes to end the second round 1-over. The comebacks speak to the team’s fortitude.

“[The comebacks] show that we don’t have to have all of our best to compete. It’s the sign of a good team,” Sanders said.

The Huskies will continue their run for the Pac-12 Championship in Texas, but their best clubs will have to be on hand as the team tries to improve on its last two third-place finishes. The course is riddled with steep greens. One bad tap on the putter could lead to a dramatic dip in scores. This has prompted some players, like Sanders, to improve upon putting skills in preparation for the course.

The UW’s emphasis on these small details has helped it to pull ahead of the competition in tight quarters. It’s something Thurmond has drilled into his coaching methods.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we need to get lucky,” he said. “We want to be good enough come Pac-12s … where if we are just ourselves, we are going to beat everybody else.”

The Texas A&M tournament will be paramount in pushing the UW’s momentum forward. However, Thurmond said he wants to maximize his team’s energy and preparedness when it most counts. If the UW can do that, great things could be on the horizon, starting in Texas and continuing into the Pac-12 Championships.

“This group has the potential to be the best,” he said. “There’s a chance, if they keep improving, to be the best ever. But that’s up to them.”

Reach reporter Miles Liatos at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @MilesDaily

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