Robert Morris golfer prepares for NCAAs
There was little typical about C.G. Mercatoris' path to the NCAA Division I men's golf championships.
So it's fitting Mercatoris, a senior at Robert Morris, and his coach, Jerry Stone, drove from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to catch a flight to Erie.
Erie, Colo., that is.
Mercatoris, the Northeast Conference champion, is competing at Colorado National Golf Club today through Saturday in one of six NCAA regionals that will pare the field for the NCAA Division I finals.
"I kind of expected them to send me nowhere close," Mercatoris said Tuesday following a warm-up round in Denver's mile-high atmosphere. "But I'm excited. It will be fun to get out there."
Mercatoris, who averaged 72.9 strokes per 18 holes this season, is the first Robert Morris golfer to reach the NCAA tournament.
The 54-hole regional, held just north of Denver, features 13 teams. The field is led by top-ranked Oklahoma State, plus an additional 10 players, including Mercatoris, who qualified with automatic bids or at-large selections.
Penn State senior T.J. Howe received an invite to the Virginia Tech regional, where he is the No. 1 seed.
The low five teams and the low individual player not on one of those teams from each regional will advance to the NCAA championships May 31-June 5 at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
Mercatoris didn't get serious about golf until his sophomore year at Brookville High School and missed last year's NCAA regionals by one stroke after blowing a lead in the NEC tournament with three holes to go.
"To come up one shot short was disappointing," Mercatoris said, "but at the same time, it made me work harder to get where I want to be."
Mercatoris got there by winning this year's NEC title with a 1-under-par 215 at ChampionsGate G.C. on April 29-May 1 in Orlando.
Now he's back to being a longshot. Mercatoris is the lowest-seeded individual at the Colorado regional and is ranked No. 485th among Division I golfers by Golfweek.com.
"He doesn't bomb it off the tee, but he's got as good a short game as there is," said Stone, an 11th-year coach. "He puts it in the ground and he figures he can beat those guys. We didn't come out here for nothing."
The Colorado regional includes Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein, the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in the world, along with top-25 teams Auburn and Georgia, traditional powers Arizona State and Clemson and multiple top-100 ranked college golfers.
Mercatoris has golf in his blood. His cousin, Nathan Smith of Brookville, is the No. 7-ranked amateur in the U.S. and No. 18 in the world.
The 6-foot, 160-pound Mercatoris isn't a huge hitter - the thin Rocky Mountain air notwithstanding - and will count on his short game on a 7,676-yard layout that includes a 696-yard par 5.
"The fairways are as important as anything," he said. "You don't have to hit 300 yards off the tee to score well."Additional Information:
At a glance
School: Robert Morris
Notable: First golfer from RMU to qualify for the NCAA Division I men's golf tournament