RJ Manke and strong supporting cast look to give UW men’s golf a Pac-12 title in front of home fans

Two years after it was originally scheduled, the No. 8 Washington men’s golf team is hosting the three-day Pac-12 championships this week, starting Monday.

Washington was set to host the championships in 2020 at Seattle Golf Club, but the event was canceled because of COVID-19. So UW’s turn was pushed back to 2022.

With Seattle Golf Club unavailable, the Huskies are hosting the event at Aldarra Golf Club in Sammamish.

“We are hugely excited,” said UW coach Alan Murray. “It has been a long time coming. … We are really honored that Aldarra agreed to host. It’s a championship-caliber course and this is one of the best college tournaments in the world of golf. It’s great to have some of the best teams coming here to compete. And we’re playing in front of our home fans, which doesn’t happen too often in college golf.”

The Huskies should have a home-course advantage. Senior star RJ Manke said the team plays two or three times a week at Aldarra.

“There are a handful of shots that might look intimidating to someone who only gets to see it once in a practice round,” Manke said.

If Washington had hosted the event in 2020, it would not have had Manke to rely on. Manke, from Lakewood, was a junior at Pepperdine that season.

In 2021, he helped Pepperdine win a national title. Given an extra season of eligibility because of COVID-19, Manke decided to use it at Washington, joining a long list of family members who are Huskies.

“It has been pretty terrific all around and I couldn’t ask for a better experience,” he said.

He certainly has thrived in competition. Manke was the nation’s No. 1 college player for much of the season, and has two wins and a remarkable eight top-three finishes (all in tournaments with at least 80 players) in 11 events.

He is currently ranked No. 4 and is No. 3 in the PGA Tour’s University rankings, with the top five players earning automatic entry into the Korn Ferry Tour (one step below the PGA Tour).

But Manke is not thinking about life as a pro just yet, not with the three biggest college tournaments of the season to come: this week’s Pac-12 championships, the NCAA regionals and the NCAA championships.

“You can’t help but look at (the rankings), but when I am out on the golf course, it’s not affecting me,” he said. “I know where I stand, but I think I am able to do a good job separating my thoughts on the course and off the course, and just hitting each shot the best I can.”

Washington has proved it is not a one-man team. The Huskies won the Goodwin tournament, hosted by Stanford last month, when Manke had by far his worst tournament of the season (a 57th-place finish). It was the Huskies’ fifth win of the season, tying a school record.

“I always knew we had a special team, and that we had a bunch of good guys, but that really opened my eyes to how good these guys are,” Manke said.

Sophomore Teddy Lin won the Duck Invitational. Fifth-year senior Noah Woolsey has three career wins at UW and has finished as high as second this season. Junior Petr Hruby has finished as high as third. Sophomore Taehoon Song and junior Bo Peng round out the six-player Husky lineup.

Murray said it is the best team he has had in his six seasons as UW’s coach, and the depth will be crucial this week with an extra player competing (five players compete in most events). The worst score of the six players is thrown out after each round.

“RJ has gotten a lot of press this year, and rightfully so, with the kind of season he has had,” Murray said. “But we have some (other) really good players.”

The Huskies would be happy with an ending similar to the last time they hosted the Pac-12 championships, at Seattle Golf Club in 2009. The Huskies won the team title by 18 shots. UW’s Darren Wallace beat Husky teammate Nick Taylor — a two-time winner on the PGA Tour — by four shots to win the individual title.

Coaching the Huskies that season was Matt Thurmond, now coach at Arizona State. His Sun Devils, ranked No. 4 in the nation, are one of three ranked teams in this week’s event, along with UW and No. 17 Stanford.

“It really comes down to how you perform, and we feel if we play well, we are going to be in the conversation (of contending for the tournament title) late in the fourth round,” Murray said. “If we don’t play well, there are some really good teams here, so it would be hard to win. Hopefully (home-course advantage) counts for a whole lot.

Admission is free to this week’s event, which starts with two rounds Monday. Washington tees off at 8:12 a.m. for its first round and at 1:42 p.m. for its second round.

The earliest tee time for Tuesday’s rounds is at 10 a.m., and action in Wednesday’s final round begins at 7:30 a.m.

Fans are not allowed to park at the country club. Spectators can park at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 26529 S.E. Duthie Hill Road in Issaquah.

A shuttle will provide transportation between the parking lot and the course every 15 minutes, starting at 7:30 a.m. Monday and Wednesday, and 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Jeans and tank tops are not allowed.

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