Boulder City, Nev. -- North Dakota men's golf coach Tim Swanson is looking forward to going back to the desert this week and the reasons are two-fold.
Not only is his team getting out of a late April cold snap that is hovering over the upper Midwest this week, but the Fighting Hawks are also returning to a Boulder Creek Golf Course that yielded UND's best team score as a Division I program last season at the 2016 Big Sky Championship.
Swanson does not have his entire lineup back from last year's record-breaking run to an 885 (+21) total in southern Nevada, but a trio of that five-man squad returns and will be teeing it up again starting Friday at this year's event.
"We have three guys back that were a big part of our success out here last year," Swanson said. "I think their familiarity with the layout will certainly help this week, but also having success on this track should bode well for us too."
The now graduated duo of Aaron Pulanco and Jacob Dehne turned in scores of 220 (+4) and 221 (+5) respectively to lead last year's charge, but right behind them was Daniel Sayler, who turned in the best tournament of his collegiate career.
Now a senior captain, Sayler is the leader of the 2016-17 squad and he'd like nothing more than to duplicate his 222 (+6) total that saw him make a team-high 12 birdies and also make the only eagle of the tournament for the Fighting Hawks in last year's event.
"I really enjoy the design of this course and it was in great condition last year," Sayler said. "As a team I think we all played really well last year and I'm excited to see what we can do this year.
"It's the last tournament of the year, and I think having the mindset to just enjoy it, take a deep breath and play your game really helped (us last year)."
Sayler closed out the tournament with a career-best 72 (E), which helped UND break the team's DI 18-hole scoring mark for the second time during the tournament.
Junior Jack McClintock and sophomore Jeremy Kirk round out the experienced trio Swanson has in his lineup. Both of those players posted a pair of 74's during the 2016 Championship. Kirk was in the 70's for all three rounds and finished with his best 54-hole total of the season at 227 (+11). McClintock opened and closed the tournament with a 74 and his final round included four birdies.
"All of the guys played consistent last season," Swanson said. "I think that will be the key again. It's a good challenging layout with receptive greens, so hopefully the veterans can relay some good information to the new guys and we put together a nice practice round on Thursday before the competition begins."
Rounding out Swanson's five-man lineup are sophomore Jordan Smith and freshman Patrick Traynor. Both players will be competing in their eighth event of the season.
Smith fired a season-low 73 (+1) in his opening round of the fall at the Nebraska-Kearney Invitational, while Traynor's 69 (-3) in the second round of the SIUE Derek Dolenc Invitational is the low score of the season by a Fighting Hawk. Traynor's third-place finish in that event was also the best by a UND golfer this season.
As for catching the new guys up to speed on the course, Sayler said he isn't too worried about that because of how they go about their preparation. "I think it's important to keep loose, don't let the tournament build up bigger than it has to be," he said. "Jordan and Pat both have a great work ethic. We will point out tips on each hole and they will work hard to study the course. I have faith in my guys and I think everyone will do great and succeed in this tournament.
-- UND --