Gold Mountain ready for PING/Golfweek Invitational

Scott Alexander has roamed the fairways and greens at Gold Mountain Golf Complex nearly every day since 1984, the year he became general manager.

He has witnessed a quarter-century worth of golf — rookies taking their first hacks, club pros honing their skills, nationally ranked college teams vying for NCAA championships.

Yet the collection of talent that will descend on Gold Mountain for the PING/Golfweek Invitational, which begins Sunday and concludes Monday, is the best Alexander has ever seen.

“We are extremely excited to have this field,” Alexander said before introducing the host University of Washington men’s golf team during a press conference Monday. “I think it’s the top field we’ve ever had as far as talented players.”

The Huskies are ranked No. 2 in the Golf World/Nike Men’s Division I Coaches Poll behind Oklahoma State, one of 15 teams that will compete at the Invitational.

The field also includes Alabama (No. 4), Arizona State (No. 6), Texas A&M (No. 7), the University of Southern California (No. 10) and seven golfers ranked individually in the Top 10, including defending NCAA champion Matt Hill of North Carolina State and the UW’s Nick Taylor, the 2008 Pac-10 Co-Player of the Year who competed in the U.S. Open in June.

Taylor is one of three All-Americans on the Huskies’ 12-man roster — Darren Wallace and Richard Lee are the others — and eighth-year coach Matt Thurmond said this is the most talented team he’s ever coached.

“This is certainly a class that can take it to another level,” Thurmond said. “We’re in a time right now where we actually have a No. 1 that’s as good or better than anyone we’ve ever had and twos and threes that are as good or better than anyone we’ve ever had.”

With a first-place finish at the season-opening Topay Cup in Japan earlier this month, the Huskies have momentum and home-course advantage entering the 54-hole Invitational.

The team played two rounds on the course Monday as part of a six-day retreat that concludes with the Invitational. It also competed in last year’s NCAA West Regional at Gold Mountain.

“Between the talent they have on that team and the familiarity they have with the golf course, I would definitely say the Huskies have a great chance to win the tournament,” said Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins. “But on the other hand, there’s a lot of great teams coming in too. So whoever wins is going to have to play some great golf.”

The annual PING/Golfweek event is typically held at the course where the NCAA Championships are to be played. But the Honors Course in Ootewah, Tenn., where the championships will be hosted in June, isn’t in peak playing condition. As a result, the stroke-play format Invitational was moved to Gold Mountain.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for us,” Thurmond said. “Normally we have to travel to play against the best competition.”

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