Whitman quartet tuned up for NWC main stage

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Whitman men’s golf coach Peter McClure never intended to guide his team through the pitfalls of the 2013-14 Northwest Conference season with just four players on his roster.

Four players, after all, is the bare minimum required to field an eligible team in most — if not all — tournament formats. Anything less means players are competing for individual honors only.

Furthermore, one bad score in a single round of play can mean the difference between finishing first and finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. Because that bad score can’t be replaced by a fifth player with a better round.

That said, McClure, who is in his 17th season in charge of the men’s golf program at Whitman, has seen a silver lining in a season that will conclude this weekend at the Northwest Conference Championships on the OGA Golf Course in Woodburn, Ore.

“Obviously, playing with just four guys means you don’t have the luxury of throwing out the high guy,” McClure said. “But maybe that’s not much of a handicap.

“I think the fact that everybody knows that they have to do their very best every time out has been very beneficial,” he said. “They know they can’t afford to have that mentality that somebody else has them covered.”

Still, it’s not the way McClure had it planned when he called his team’s first practice last fall.

“I would like to have had eight guys, and I thought I had them,” McClure said.

But that all changed when a couple of players left school and a couple of others opted not to play. Which left McClure with the four-man roster of seniors Andrew Welch and Jonathan Standen, junior Scott Martin and sophomore Daniel Hoffman.

That foursome has stuck together through thick and thin, good rounds and bad, placing eighth out of nine teams in the Fall Classic and then moving up to sixth place in the Spring Classic. They enter this weekend’s season finale in a three-way tie for sixth place with Linfield and Pacific in the NWC standings.

While McClure recognizes that his team’s possibilities are limited this weekend in Woodburn, it is his hope — the team’s goal — to finish in the middle third of the standings in the nine-school conference.

“I think we have a realistic shot at doing that,” McClure said.

Willamette tops the standings with 15 points scored during the NWC’s Fall Classic and Spring Classic. Pacific Lutheran and Whitworth are tied for second with 13 points each, followed by University of Puget Sound with 10.5 points and Linfield with 8.5. Then it’s Whitman, Pacific and L&C all with four points, and George Fox, which finished last in both classics, with zero points.

McClure believes his quartet has the potential to finish as high as fourth place in this weekend’s tournament. And since the championships are double weighted, that would provide the Missionaries with 10 additional points and move them substantially up the ladder.

“We will probably have to shoot 300 or close to it,” the coach said of his team’s goals for each day of the 36-hole tournament. “And we’ve shown that we can do it.”

Whitman’s best 18-hole score this spring was a 305 at Fircrest in Tacoma in early March. The Missionaries also shot 307 at the Spring Thaw on the Broken Top Golf Course in Bend, Ore., a couple of weeks ago. And they recorded a 308 in last weekend’s Easter Invitational at Veterans Memorial Golf Course.

“We are a much better team now than we were last fall,” McClure said. “And a big part of that is Scott Martin.”

Martin, who is from Escondido, Calif., boasts a team-best 72.4 scoring average for his best five rounds this spring, which includes a pair of 1-under-par 71s.

“He drives the ball well and keeps it in play,” McClure said of Martin. “And his irons are right at the pin almost every time. But it has been his putting that has been the key for him.”

Martin needed just 13 putts to traverse the final 14 holes of last weekend’s final round of the Easter Invitational at the Wine Valley Golf Course, where the spacious, undulating greens are treacherous for the best of putters.

Welch, who is from Phoenix, Ariz., has a 76.2 scoring average for his five best rounds this spring. Hoffman, Los Altos, Calif., averages 77.4. And Standen, Sisters, Ore., is at 79.4.

“Andrew is a very consistent driver who hits the ball low and usually straight,” McClure said of Welch. “His problem is when he gets on what he calls the bogey train and he can’t get off. And usually it’s his chipping and putting that put him on it.

“But I keep expecting him to shoot a 71 or a 72, and maybe it will happen this weekend.”

Hoffman, McClure said, is the hardest worker on the team. But despite all of that work, his short game can still be his downfall.

“He just hasn’t gotten it to where he can consistently go low,” the coach said of Hoffman’s game. “He shot a 73 in the first round at Broken Top and came back with an 82.

“But he’s not far off. It wouldn’t surprise me if he came in with a couple of 75s this weekend.”

Standen, McClure said, has turned in his best four scores of the season during his last five rounds and just might be hitting his peak.

“He shot a 75 the first day of the Spring Thaw at Broken Top,” McClure said. “And that’s a golf course with some teeth in it, with lots of water and elevation changes.”

Whatever unfolds this weekend, McClure is gratified for the efforts of his four loyalists.

“I think we have excellent team chemistry, and everyone knows where we are as a team,” McClure said. “They’ve worked hard in practice and in competition, and I have been very pleased with what we have done with what we have.

“Now, if we can go out and shoot a couple of 300s, that would be great. Or, as the players would say, ‘That would be ideal.’”

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