Under Par: Eugene’s not just a city you know

FishDuck Staff Editorials

It seems fitting that arguably the most dominant athlete in Eugene this year is Eugene…Wong, that is. Few have racked up the credentials and dominance in Eugene that has been exhibited by Oregon’s men’s golfer Eugene Wong. The senior from North Vancouver, BC has performed this year for the Oregon men’s golf team at levels that draw few parallels in Pac-10/12 history.

Oregon was ranked on the fringe of the top-25 to begin the season. Today, they finish the season ranked as the sixth best team in the nation. While there is no “I” in team, there is a much needed Eugene in this one.

Wong cemented his astonishing four-year career as a Duck on April 29th at the Pac-12 Championship in Corvallis. His high level of play is something that has not only been dominant, but extremely consistent throughout his time at Oregon.

As a freshman on the UO golf team (2008-2009), he earned an all-Pac-10 honorable mention selection and was one three freshmen ranked among the top-three golfers on the team. Wong led Oregon at the season-opening OSU Giustina Memorial, where he matched fellow freshman Robbie Ziegler for the low score on the team (70-72-71-213) en route to a tie for fourth in the tournament. To cap a remarkable freshman year, Wong became just the 10th golfer in program history to card a 65 or lower.

Going into his sophomore season (2009-2010), Wong looked at the rumor and age-old myth of the “sophomore slump” and laughed, hard. You know what Wong did as a response to the fairytale-esque ‘sophomore slump?’ He went out and won the highest individual golfer award possible, the Jack Nicklaus Award, which is given to the top golfer in NCAA Division I. He was named a member of the 2010 All-Nicklaus Team and a first-team PING All-American. Wong continued his dominance, being named the 2010 Pac-10 co-Golfer of the Year and first team All-Pac-10. For the second season in a row, he led the team with a scoring average of 70.24, ranked third nationally.

Wong set the school mark for scoring average relating to par at 0.96-under per round, tying for ninth at the NCAA Championships at 4-under 212 (69-72-71), the best finish by a UO golfer at the event in school history.

To put the first half of Eugene Wong’s Oregon career into a more simplified perspective; before the age of 20 Wong shattered school records, won the Jack Nicklaus Award, and proved to be the best overall player in the conference.

For those that followed Eugene Wong’s mind-boggling accolades accrued in just his first two years alone at Oregon, after his sophomore season the question was, what now? How does one top near perfection, reaching levels of success in the sport not seen in the Pac-10 since the days of a certain Tiger playing at Stanford. Now with Wong being more experienced with a room full of trophies, expectations through the roof to lead and mentor the team, could Eugene Wong reach even greater heights?  Wong’s regular season collegiate career concluded as of April 29th, and in looking back on his junior and senior seasons, the answer is unequivocally, YES.

In the early Fall 2010 season, Wong appeared in four tournaments, posting the best finish at the Husky Invitational with a two-under 214 (68-74-72) to tie for 10th, pacing the Ducks for the spring season. The good times kept rolling, as by the end of the 2010-2011 season Wong finished in a tie for 42nd in the NCAA Regional Tournament at 5-over 221 (75-72-74). As a team leader, Wong helped the Ducks finish in a tie for first place at the Pac-10 Championships finishing 20th at 6-over 286 (73-73-70-70). In national tournaments, he contributed to the Ducks third place finish with a tie for 19th at the 65th Annual Western Intercollegiate, while shooting 6-over 216 (73-72-71).

Wong continued to shine with a tie for 19th at The Duck Invitational, shooting 1-over 217 (74-71-72), with the UO team finishing second as a team. Wong tied for 25th at the Bandon Dunes Championship at 9-over 225 (73-76-76), and tied for 19th at the USC Collegiate Invitational shooting 3-over 216 (72-70-74). Individually, he placed fourth among his teammates, tied for 91st overall at the Amer Ari Invitational after a 9-over 225 (76-73-76).

For any major athlete, there comes a point where after such consistent athletic dominance in their respective sport that people will wonder if they have any amazing tricks left up their sleeve before their final curtain call.  It’s what I wondered about Eugene Wong going into this season, his final as an Oregon Duck. Like the great athletes, with the season now over, Wong showed that while his days as a Duck are drawing to a close, it is far from the last we will ever hear of Eugene Wong.

From a numbers standpoint in his final season, Wong set a tournament record at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational by two strokes at 18-under 195 (65-63-67), shooting a career-low for a three-round event, earning medalist honors and helping UO finish in a first-place tie.

He helped the Ducks to their second consecutive victory at The Prestige at PGA West, placing second overall, shooting 12-under 204 (70-64-70). Wong also played a key role in helping the Ducks win the St. Mary’s Invitational, shooting 1-over 217 (71-73-73), tying for seventh.

Those are the numbers. They of course look just as impressive as his numbers in his first three seasons at Oregon, showing no signs of slowing down on a frantic pace in a sport that requires such intense mental strain to maintain success.

The Pac-12 Championship began April 27th, with the #11-ranked University of Oregon men’s golf team finishing three places better than its pre-event seeding. The Ducks led by Wong nearly won its first-ever Pac-12 Championship team title in Sunday’s final-round action, being just barely edged out by #6 Cal.

In his final Pac-12 Championship curtain call, Eugene Wong from an individual standpoint made sure he played his best to let those at the next level of golf know that he’s coming for them next, somebody who seems destined to make a splash on the PGA tour very soon picking up where another Duck has been proudly waving the Oregon flag for years, Peter Jacobsen.

That may be a bold statement, expecting a collegiate athlete to make an immediate impact on the PGA Tour for years to come…but why not? Wong has been the most impressive golfer in the conference since Tiger Woods.

Wong followed in a two-way tie for third place with an overall nine-under. He finished the first day of play shooting a 69. Typically on the second day of play, players might slip due to the pressure of shooting well the first day. Eugene Wong teed off at 8:30 a.m. on the second day of play and by the end of day two, Wong had topped his outstanding first day by shooting a 68 and followed it up with yet another 69 in the third round (73 in the final round).

What this shows is that Eugene Wong is getting better as he is getting older, which is something that will bode well for him at the professional level if he decides to go that route. With the great team performance at the Pac-12 Championship, the Ducks surged from 11th in the nation to sixth, and now head to Ann Arbor, Michigan to play in the first round of the NCAA Regionals at the University of Michigan Golf Course on May 17-19. This is the sixth straight postseason bid under head coach Casey Martin for the Ducks. As a result of Oregon’s great performance at the Pac-12 Championship, the Ducks are the second-highest ranked team in the three-day, three-round regional tournament.

The top five teams from each of the nation’s six regionals then advance to the NCAA Championships, set for May 29-June 3 at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, CA. The Ducks have savored one regional title (2010), finished second (2009) and also placed 10th (2011) in the current 13-team regional format. In the previous 27-team regional format under Martin, UO took second in ’08 and 19th in ’07.

As far as program history goes, Oregon has made three of its 24-NCAA appearances under Martin’s tenure. The Ducks third-place tie in 2010 was its best-ever in program history, and one place better than its showing in 1959. His other youth-laden squads in ’09 and ’08 placed 22nd and 27th in the collegiate finale, respectively. Last fall, Oregon ranked first nationally after it opened the campaign with three-straight team wins in the St Mary’s Invitational, The Prestige and Alister MacKenzie tournaments.

Getting back to Eugene Wong; last Monday, he picked up his second Pac-12 Golfer of the Year honor.

Eugene Wong has the experience and leadership to take the Ducks into the regionals and potentially to the NCAA Championships. Statistically and literally, Oregon has never had a golfer of this magnitude and skill. As prep star in high school, Wong won the 2008 Junior World Championship at the legendary Torrey Pines in San Diego.

Eugene Wong is ranked as the highest scoring golfer in the Pac-12. Perhaps it is blasphemous to make such comparisons to athletes who have transcended their sports, but the conference has never seen a player like this since Tiger Woods, and if Wong continues his consistent improvement he could be the next to dominate the sport at the next level on the same trajectory as Woods. That is not to say that Wong is at the Woods plateau yet, but as far as individual skill and honors go, Eugene Wong has matched Tiger from a collegiate career perspective.

Eugene Wong has helped to make golf a serious sport in the Pac-12 again, and more than the trophies, honors and scorecards, that should be the leadoff accolade in the Eugene Wong legacy. At the pro level golf IS Tiger Woods, he brought an audience of millions to the game, the most recognizable name arguably in the history of golf. Eugene Wong continues his rise in the echelon of the greats, and whatever his next step may be after Eugene leaves Eugene, expect great things. After all, it’s what he’s always done, one of the best golfers in Oregon history.

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