USGA MEN'S STATE TEAM
Young California Team Endures First-Round Growing Pains September 29, 2016 | Birmingham, Ala. By David Shefter, USGA

Dan Erickson, one of three 17-year-olds on the California team, admittedly struggled with his game on Wednesday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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One by one, the three teenagers walked off the 18th green of the Country Club of Birmingham’s West Course after Round 1 on Wednesday with looks of bewilderment and frustration. Clearly, this wasn’t the outcome the youngest squad competing in the 12th USGA Men’s State Team Championship had wanted.

Nor was it what California’s golf hierarchy – the Northern California Golf Association and Southern California Golf Association – had expected when they changed course earlier this year and selected an all-junior lineup for an event typically populated with more seasoned players.

The reasoning was sound. California has been competitive since the Men’s State Team’s inception in 1995. The Golden State owns seven top-10 finishes, including solo second in 1997 and a tie for second in 2003. In almost every instance, mid-amateurs have dominated the teams. But this year, California was coming off a 15th-place finish in the biennial competition in 2014, and the selectors saw Florida finish second behind Texas with two standout juniors – Sam Horsfield (currently No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™) and Gabriel Lench – on the team. Their analysis: mid-amateurs were not having much success so let’s go in another direction.

So three 17-year-old high school seniors – Ashwin Arasu, of San Diego; Thomas Hutchison, of San Jose; and Dan Erickson, of Whittier – were chosen to travel to Alabama to play in this year’s championship. Two had previous USGA championship experience and one was competing for the first time.

But neither the players nor its non-competing captain thought there would be a pair of 77s and a non-counting 78. The 12-over 154 total placed California in a tie for 39th and in jeopardy of missing the cut. The low 21 teams and ties qualify for Friday’s final round in the 54-hole competition.

“Ask me [on Thursday]. I want to see how they do after two days, not one,” said California captain Keenan Barber, an SCGA board member.

The trio entered the competition armed with confidence. Hutchison, committed to attend the University of California-Davis next fall, was named the 2016 Junior Tour of Northern California’s Player of the Year after posting three wins this summer, including the NCGA Junior Championship. Erickson, who is headed to Texas A&M in 2017, won the SCGA Match Play in 2015 and was the runner-up this year. Arasu, who plans to attend Stanford University in 2017, advanced to the Round of 32 in the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur, which included a walk-off, chip-in for eagle on the 18th green of his Round-of-64 match.

“We get a lot of competition playing against a lot of kids our age,” said Hutchison. “We can compete with any amateurs. I think we’re experienced enough.”

Said Erickson: “Our team didn’t perform very well. We’ll do better [on Thursday].”

First-time USGA championship competitor Thomas Hutchison hopes to eliminate the mistakes that plagued him in Round 1. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Perhaps some of that was inexperience, or maybe nerves. One of the players in Erickson’s group, Tennessee veteran Tim Jackson, won his first U.S. Mid-Amateur (1994) five years before any of the Californians were born.

Barber, who volunteered to captain the team because he has family in the Birmingham area, chalked it up to some poor course-management decisions.

“All three of these kids are capable of scoring really well,” he said. “I’m glad to see them compete on this stage.”

Of course, a week in Alabama means five days off from classes. All three brought some of their assignments with them. Hutchison spent part of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning before their starting time catching up on homework. Arasu, who is taking three advanced-placement classes this semester – in government, biology and literature – used his computer to read his textbooks online.

“Luckily, my teachers were very accommodating,” said Arasu. “I will have a few quizzes that I will have to make up when I get back.”

Added Hutchison: “I missed an essay and a test in calculus. But I’d rather be here than back in school.”

To stick around for Friday’s final round, all three will have to quickly eliminate the mistakes that plagued them on Wednesday.

In Arasu’s case, it’s finding more fairways off the tee.

“For me, I have to drive the ball better,” said Arasu, who carded one of the 6-over 77s (Erickson had the other). My putting was just fine. I am sure it is something I can work out before [Thursday’s] round.”

Erickson said he never felt comfortable with his swing or putting stroke.

Hutchison said it’s a matter of staying focused and eliminating the unforced errors. “No three-putts and hit the fairways,” he said.

But no matter what happens, all three have enjoyed the experience of competing against some of the country’s best post-college golfers. NCAA rules prohibit anyone currently playing on a collegiate team from participating in the Men’s State Team.

“It’s fantastic,” said Hutchison. “The course is beautiful and the greens are great. I just love everything about it.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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