Men's Golf Expects Another Pac-10 Title And To Contend For NCAAs
Feb. 14, 2001
2001 MEN'S GOLF OUTLOOK
The Arizona State men's golf team is looking for some players to step up, and head coach Randy Lein knows he has the depth to do just that. And most importantly, Lein knows that his team is eager to atone for missing the cut at the NCAA Championships last June.
'Obviously, missing the cut at last year's NCAA Championships was a big disappointment, especially after winning four tournaments, ' says Lein, who is in his ninth year at ASU. 'But I know the guys are really excited about the spring season and getting back to the our winning ways. We are a program that needs to challenge for the NCAA title every year, and our guys know and expect that.'
Each year, Lein and assistant coach Mickey Yokoi have directed the Sun Devils to solid play in early spring after returning from a February trip to Hawaii. The Sun Devils usually begin their great play by winning their own ASU Thunderbird/SAVANE Invitational, the Pac-10 title (ASU has won the past six) and competing well in the NCAA West Regional.
The final step is to compete for the NCAA title, and no team has been in the hunt more than the Sun Devils. ASU had posted 12 straight NCAA top-10 finishes and was even better in the five years previous to last season, with a top-five finish in each season and a national title in 1996.
However, things might be a little tougher this year as one of the key ingredients is gone.
Three-time All-American and three-time defending Pac-10 champion Paul Casey opted to turn professional in November. Casey defended his English Amateur title in August and decided after the fall it was time to test the professional waters. Casey set the ASU record with a 69.87 stroke average last year, topping Phil Mickelson's 69.95 mark of 1991-92.
'Paul's decision is one that I understood and supported,' says Lein, 'He brought a lot of recognition to Arizona State and has represented the university in a very positive way. That simply means someone else has to step up. There is no question it is a huge loss.
'We entered this year hoping to find a fifth guy, as we felt we had the experience we needed with our returners. Now we need to find one more. The opportunity is there for players to step up and play a lot. One thing that is good about all this is we lost the player who was in the No. 1 spot from a year ago, but the U.S. Amateur Champion is in that spot. That is what has made this a special program - the depth of the program. We know we have the best competitor at the No. 1 spot in the country. This summer proved that.'
This past summer did indeed prove that the best collegiate golf competitor indeed makes his home Tempe, Ariz.
The date was Aug. 28, 2000, and it was a historic day for the Arizona State golf program. Jeff Quinney nailed a 30-foot putt that changed his life, earning him the U.S. Amateur title. Along with that came celebrity status, invitations to the 2000 Master's, 2001 U.S. Open, 2001 British Open and other pro tournaments. Interview, autograph and appearance requests came by the dozens. Quinney will play in the 2001 Phoenix Open and is now one of the better-known faces in Phoenix sports circles, an area that four major professional teams call home. For Lein, it is a perfect scenario.
'Jeff is a guy that you want representing your program,' says Lein. 'He is acquiring so much recognition for us, and he is handling it so well. Every place we compete he is the lead story on the news and in the paper. He gets introduced by the starter as the U.S. Amateur Champion. But the best part is that he is a very humble student who takes his academic seriously. He is a Pac-10 All-Academic selection and he comes from a great family. It has been a pleasure to watch him mature, and his teammates really appreciate him.'
Quinney's 1999-2000 collegiate season was not as stellar as his junior year, but he caught fire last summer, winning the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Amateur and the Oregon Amateur before his epic U.S. Amateur title. But the groundwork for his success was probably cemented in April of 1999.
The Eugene, Ore., native, who had yet to win a collegiate tournament in 19 previous tries but had been extremely steady in his play, broke out with an amazing round of 62 in the final round of the ASU Thunderbird/SAVANE Invitational on April 19. The mark beat the ASU record of 63 held by current PGA stars Phil Mickelson and Billy Mayfair and also set the Karsten Course record. Quinney shot a 15-under-201 to win the tournament.
Quinney then won the NCAA West Regional in Tucson with a 7-under 209. In 40 rounds that year, he posted a 72.50 stroke average and had four top-five finishes in 13 events. He earned second-team All-America honors for his efforts that year and was a first-team All-Pac-10 pick. Last year Quinney had a 72.34 stroke average and four top-10 finishes en route to first-team All-Pac-10 honors again.
'He's really a great player to watch on the course because of the way he handles himself. The other great part about Jeff is he is a fan of the tradition of the game. He understands what he did this summer and appreciates it. The USGA could not have asked for a better representative.'
Lein's other two returners from the fifth-place 1999 NCAA squad and the past two Pac-10 championships should have solid seasons, as junior Matt Jones continues to improve and senior Jin Park is one of the most experienced golfers in the nation.
Jones earned honorable mention All-America last year in his first full season. He posted a 71.86 stroke average, second on the team, and had four top-10 finishes. He finished fourth at the NCAA Preview in Alabama and was sixth at the Las Vegas Intercollegiate, which had some of the top competition in the nation.
Jones transferred to ASU in the middle of the 1998-99 and in eight spring tournaments posted a 73.38 stroke average. As he became more comfortable in the United States, he improved, as evidenced by improving his score each day at the NCAA Championships in Minnesota and a sixth-place showing at the NCAA West Regional in Tucson.
'Matt injured his back this fall so it was tough for him to practice and get better,' says Lein. 'You can never tell how he is doing on the course by looking at him, as he does not show a lot of emotion. When he is focused, he can be as good of a player as there is in college golf.'
Park, a senior, has as much collegiate experience as anyone on the team and maybe anyone in the country for that matter, and Lein expects that to result in a great final campaign.
'I expect Jin to have a break-through this spring and contend for All-America honors,' says Lein. 'He is very serious about his game and has matured into a great student of the game. He has played in 35 collegiate tournaments in his career, so you know he has played against the best and gained considerable experience. '
Park has competed in each of the past three NCAA Championships and has been a member of the past three Pac-10 titles. He posted back-to-back impressive tournaments last May with a 15th-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships, as he had the first-round lead with a career-best 65 in the first round. He then finished tied for fifth at the NCAA West Regional with a 6-under 210, which led the Sun Devils. In two seasons, Park has competed in 23 tournaments.
'Jin has played a lot for us in the past three years and that experience will be very helpful with our younger players. From what I have watched this fall I expect Jin to be one of the best in college golf this spring. He is that good.'
TIME TO STEP UP...
Two returners from last year, Shane McMenamy and Brady Stockton, both are expected to make large contributions this year after playing in five tournaments each last year.
McMenamy, who won the national juniors four summers ago, was an all-state hockey player in North Dakota where his team won three straight state titles and possesses the same kind of 'team' background as Quinney. He tied for 22nd at the 2000 Pac-10 Championships, as he shot a collegiate-best 69 in the final round.
'Shane needs to play a lot to improve. We need to get him in the lineup and just watch him improve and grow as a player,' notes Lein. 'He's been a winner and is used to being on winning teams. He has a lot of natural ability and he's a great competitor, and he takes to coaching very well.'
Meanwhile, Stockton came to ASU with glowing credentials and is ready to have a great season.
'Brady only needs to get confidence at this level. His work ethic this fall was encouraging,' says Lein. 'After taking a year off, it took him time to get used to playing in a collegiate tournament. But the window of opportunity is there for him to make a big impact this year. He is serious about his game.'
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER...
Lein says several others can compete for a lineup spot this year.
Senior Chris O'Connor, juniors Tyler Erickson, Brian Nosler and Ryan Whitaker, sophomore Kurt Mayr and redshirt freshmen Brett Johnson and Mike Derminio all could find themselves in the lineup.
'All of those players are going to get a chance to crack the lineup,' says Lein. 'It all depends on who is playing well in January.'
Sophomore transfer Nick Manthey and freshmen Chez Reavie, Kendall Critchfield and Mike Skillern are expected to redshirt but will push their teammates in practice rounds.
'Even though we lost Paul, the talent and depth are there for another great year,' says Lein. 'Our goals are the same: win the Pac-10 title and put ourselves in a position to win the national title. We have a lot of young guys who are going to compete for playing time while we have other guys like Jeff and Jin that have been around for three years and are expecting a strong finish to their careers.
'The excitement is there this year, but for different reasons than the past few years. Our guys have been challenged now that Paul is gone and we didn't play well at the NCAAs last year,' says Lein, a seven-time pick as Pac-10 Coach of the Year (five times at ASU and twice at USC). 'They will be ready to play by the time the spring rolls around. That is when it really matters The question is what guys will be playing and that is what will make it an intriguing season.'