In Tucson, Ariz., the 20th-ranked University of New Mexico men’s golf team is half way to becoming an elite program.
The Lobos on Sunday shot a 2-under 286 for an 11-under 853 to finish in sixth place in the 54-hole National Invitational that concluded on Sunday. The event was a primer for the Mountain West championships next month, which will be on the same course.
UNM finished 22 strokes behind tournament winner and fourth-ranked California, whose three-round 831 helped the Bears cruise to a 15-stroke victory over No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 32 SMU.
No. 24 UNLV and No. 36 San Diego State, the Lobos’ Mountain West rivals, tied for fourth at 13-under 851 in the 14-team event. The Aztecs shot a 5-under 283 and the Rebels an 8-under 280 on Sunday.
“We didn’t play great,” Lobo coach Glen Millican said. “We didn’t play terrible. We played OK. It would’ve been nice to finish ahead of San Diego State and UNLV, our conference rivals, but we did some good things.”
The Lobos starting five – juniors Gavin Green, Victor Perez, Sam Saunders and Sean Romero, and freshman Andrej Bevins combined to shoot 13-under over the first nine holes during the event at OMNI Tucson National.
The quintet combined to go 4-over on the final nine holes of the tournament.
“The back nine was a little trickier,” Millican said. “Even when you have it going, there are holes that you have to hit a good shot, and we made a few mistakes on a couple of those holes.”
Romero closed with an even-par 72 Sunday to capture a tie for 10th place overall with a 4-under 212 (73-67-72). After posting his collegiate career-best score with a 5-under 67 on Saturday, Romero posted his best finish of the 2013-14 season.
“That was a great tournament for Sean,” Millican said. “He really played well, which could be a key for us down the stretch.”
Saunders continued his strong play this string despite a 1-over 73 on Sunday. His 2-under 214 (72-69-73) helped him tie for 17th place.
Each of the five players were at 2 under par at some portion of their rounds on Sunday, but only Green finished under par for the day. He shot a 3-under 69 to give him a 1-under 215 (73-73-69) to tie for 23rd.
Perez shot a 1-over 73 Sunday to finish the event with an even-par 216 and a tie for 28th. True freshman Andre Bevins finished with an even-par 72 Sunday to capture a tie for 39th place in the 81-player field at 2-over 218 (76-70-72).
Bevins was 2 under par on Hole Nos. 1-9 and 4 over on 10-18 for the tournament.
“With Andrej, that’s just a lack of experience,” Millican said. “The last two days, he got to 5 under and 3 under and maybe got a little ahead of himself. He’ll get better as he plays more tournaments.”
Sophomore Joe Abella, competing as an individual, closed nicely with a 1-under 71 to tie for 28th overall with Perez at even 216 (68-77-71).
“This was definitely a good experience for us,” Millican said. “It helps that we did some things well, and it helps that we made some mistakes that we can work on.”
The Lobos will conclude their three-tournament, 18-day jaunt on March 24-25 at the Lone Star Invitational in San Antonio, Texas.