BYU golf's second-straight NCAA regional meet starts Thursday, a day before the field

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PROVO — The BYU men’s golf team is heading back to the NCAA championships.

Like all BYU sports with the potential of competing on Sunday, that comes with a unique challenge and circumstance.

But just getting back to the field after last year's success is a feat in and over itself.

Led by NCAA regional champ Rhett Rasmussen and college golf standout Peter Kuest, the Cougars will tee off Thursday at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the second-straight season BYU will end the year at the NCAA national tournament.

But rather than relying on one or two golfers — even ball strikers as special as Kuest — BYU put in a total team effort to advance to consecutive NCAA national meets for the first time since 2010.

Carson Lundell led the Cougars on the first day and added an even-par 70 on the final day, and Rasmussen took Pullman Regional medalist honors after shooting three-straight rounds in the 60s.

"It was very impressive," BYU coach Bruce Brockbank told BYUtv. "We had a great fall and we struggled a little bit in the spring. But to have the guys step up when we needed it the most was fabulous. Our high score at the regional was 72, and we had three really low scores of 64 and 63.

"Top to bottom, the kids got the job done."

Rasmussen shot consecutive rounds of 63 in the regional, pairing it with an opening-round 69 to finish with a three-day total of 195 to lead all golfers.

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"He just drove the ball particularly well those last two rounds, and then he started hitting those wedges close," Brockbank said of the Corner Canyon product. "That's one of his strengths; when he gets going, the kid can make a lot of birdies. That’s what he did at the regional."

Because BYU has a university-wide policy of not competing on Sunday, the school affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be allowed to play its Sunday round on Thursday. The Cougars will tee off in groups of one on the course, with pin placements set to Sunday on the same day that other schools are playing a practice round.

The same exemption was given to BYU a year ago when top golfer Patrick Fishburn stormed as high as No. 2 on the individual leaderboard with a sterling performance.

Following Thursday’s round, the Cougars will compete with the field Friday and Saturday, and their Thursday round score will then be added to their total on Sunday.

"We've been practicing it a bit. All year long, you play in threesomes, and in the first round, we’ll be out there by ourselves," said Brockbank, whose team departed for Arkansas late Monday night. "But I think the guys have a little better feel for it.

"The biggest challenge last year was the weather and it sounds like it’s going to be a factor again this year — at least for the first couple of days."

BYU will be joined at the meet by fellow West Coast Conference member Pepperdine, which won its second-straight conference title to open the postseason. The Cougars will also be joined by Utah golfer Kyler Dunkle, who is the first Ute to make an appearance at the NCAA meet since Dustin Pimm in 2006.

Top-ranked Oklahoma State, the defending champs who ran away from the field in 2018, is a favorite to win repeat titles. No. 6 Texas, No. 12 Stanford, No. 16 Georgia and No. 20 Texas A&M are also strong contenders, with each coming in off wins in their respective regionals.

The NCAA’s individual medalist will be decided after the round Monday, May 27, and the top eight teams will continue match play May 28-29 to contest the team title.

But being back in the field for a second-straight year has the Cougars confident they can improve on last year’s performance.

"Being in that environment with a lot of great teams and having the chance to experience the different format on that Thursday afternoon will help, for sure," Brockbank said. "The golf course we will play, they say, is the most difficult course we’ve faced in a long time."

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