After snapping 3-wood in half, Stanford’s Karl Vilips surgical to begin NCAAs

After snapping 3-wood in half, Stanford’s Karl Vilips surgical to begin NCAAs

CARLSBAD, Calif. – It wasn’t Karl Vilips’ proudest moment.

The Stanford senior was fighting his swing and putting up an assortment of scores during a hectic final round last week at the NCAA Stanford Regional. The host Cardinal were below the cut line on the final nine when Vilips, on the fifth tee, piped his second 3-wood of the day out of play.

He then lost his cool, slamming the club into the ground.

The shaft snapped in half.

“He lost his temper, and it was a serious deal,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “I won’t name names, but there were some people thinking he should have had some sort of misconduct penalty.”

Embarrassed but not penalized, Vilips calmed down to birdie three of his last four holes and help the Cardinal edge Ole Miss for one of the final tickets to this week’s NCAA Championship.

On Friday at Omni La Costa, Vilips, still without his 3-wood, relied on a new, 17-degree TaylorMade P90 driving iron to get him around a difficult, national-championship layout. He didn’t card a bogey, rolled in three birdies and opened the NCAA Championship in 3-under 69, which had him just a shot back of Ohio State senior Adam Wallin, the individual leader after the morning wave. Stanford, as a team, posted 10 over, four shy of the Buckeyes’ midday mark.

“Felt great,” Vilips said. “It’s a really tough course, so to not make any bogeys was nice. It’s pretty brutal out here, and the pins are tough, and I did a really good job of giving myself looks.”

Vilips entered the week ranked No. 20 in the country and having posted four top-5 finishes, including a win at the Pac-12 Championship. But during Thursday’s practice round, not only did Vilips go through several 2-irons on the range before settling on one, he also wasn’t striking it well on the course, especially with the driver.

“He hit it nicely today, and he definitely didn’t yesterday,” Ray said.

The quick fix would not have happened four years ago, when Vilips first arrived at Stanford. He was a world-class recruit, but he was immature and recovering from surgery in which doctors grafted bone from his wrist to repair his left index finger. He also entered the transfer portal the summer after that first year, only to find out that he had missed the deadline by a day. He’d later to decide to remain a Cardinal.

“As an 18-, 19-year-old not seeing all the results kind of happen right away, I was looking for an excuse almost,” Vilips said. “And I think it was really important that I didn't transfer anywhere because looking back on it, I mean, Stanford is just the greatest place for me. Like I've learned so much, there's so many resources there available to me.

“So, definitely a blessing in disguise.”

Vilips called his first two seasons at Stanford a collective “big kick in the butt,” as he posted just three combined top-10s. He then decided to start journaling, logging swing thoughts and other golf information in his iPhone. For Vilips, that sparked a shift to taking more ownership of his game without having to constantly rely on instructor Collin Swatton for hands-on guidance.

These days, when something is amiss, Vilips can usually self-diagnose.

Ray says that’s what the great ones who have gone through this program – Mav McNealy, Patrick Rodgers, Brandon Wu – have done. And it’s allowed Vilips to play more freely. He’s got seven top-10s since the start of his junior year.

“Carl definitely is diligent,” Ray said. “I mean, by far, he's the guy on the team – routines, habits, his practice schedule, like he knows what he's doing. His bag is always organized. He's always the guy that has the kit right, so I respect that about him a lot.”

Vilips dove into his logs on Thursday night and determined that he was putting too much weight on his toes, which was causing his head to move forward and thus creating the mis-hits. On the range early Friday morning, Vilips got more back toward his heels and straightened out his knees. He couldn’t quite solve his inability to cut his irons, but he went with draws all day and produced in a big moment for his team.

“The core for Karl,” Ray added, “is if he's driving it well and he's hitting it on the face, he's gonna be in a pretty good mood, he's gonna shoot lower scores, and everything's gonna be fine.”

That was Friday, and Vilips was proud of that performance.