Men's Golf Team Working Towards A Great Spring of 2007
Dec. 7, 2006
ASU men's golf coach Randy Lein always talks about his season in stages, the most important being mentally ready for the Pac-10 and NCAA Championships. Sure, he wants to win every event but the time to peak is around mid-April when the ASU Thunderbird Invitational is held, which the Sun Devils have won eight times under Coach Lein. To be prepared to win the late-season events, it is imperative that you have one of the best No. 1 players in your lineup, a solid core in the middle and some experience as well. Put all those in your lineup and you will be contending for championships. The past two seasons, ASU has been on the doorstep of both the Pac-10 and NCAA titles and Lein is preparing to be in the hunt again.
'The past two years we have been close to winning a Pac-10 title and a national title,' notes Coach Lein, now in his 15th season. 'Sometimes you have to be a little lucky, but the one thing you have to do is put yourself in position to win on the final day. That is the goal. And with our current team, we have the experience and All-America background to get that done.'
When Lein is talking about getting lucky, he could be referring to the 2005 Pac-10 Championships, when ASU had a big lead over Washington heading into the final round at Walla Walla, Wash. While ASU played in the afternoon, the Huskies played the morning round in great conditions. ASU took the course in the afternoon and fought through a terrible afternoon wind and terrible conditions. The teams ended tied, but UW won the tiebreaker because of a championship formula. Being the best team the first three days was unlucky in this case. Last year, ASU was tied for second heading into the final round of the NCAA Championships in Sunriver, Ore., before finishing 11th. But if you stay in the hunt enough, Lein knows the championships will happen. He has seven Pac-10 titles, four NCAA West Regional victories, one NCAA Championship and 38 tournament wins on his resume at Arizona State.
'You have to be lucky and good and be ready to win,' he says. 'With our top two guys this year, I don't think there is any question that we will be as strong at the top as anyone. That is necessary if you want to be the best. What we need is for our next three guys to be ready to step up.'
The first Sun Devil Coach Lein is referring to when he talks about his top two guys is Sweden's Niklas Lemke. Lemke has put together a solid career, as last year he posted four top-five finishes and another top-10 finish. In ASU's final five tournaments, he was ASU's low scorer three times and tied on another. He is a candidate for the Ben Hogan Award and everyone is predicting big things. Because in order to win a national team title, someone will have to go low and replace former NCAA champion Alejandro Canizares. Lemke has that ability.
'Niklas is up for every major award and honor and that should be expected from an experienced senior in our program,' notes Lein, who has had nine Sun Devils notch NCAA top-10 finishes on 14 occasions. 'He is deserving because of not only his talent, but his work ethic. He has a chance to be our next great NCAA champion. If you ask coaches and golf media across the country, they all agree he is probably the preseason favorite to earn Player of the Year.'
Lemke had a 71.68 stroke average last year (69.89 this past fall) and competed in 36 events in his first three years. He finished second at the 2006 Pac-10 Championships and tied for seventh at the 2005 Pac-10 Championship with a 1-under 283, in addition to a tie for fifth at the 2006 NCAA West Regional. He earned third-team All-America honors last year.
'We expect big things from Niklas this year,' says Lein of his senior. 'If we want to win a national title, he will have to play the biggest part.'
Another player who will have to play a big role is honorable mention All-American from 2006 Benjamin Alvarado Holley. He posted a 72.50 stroke average last year in 10 events, the fifth-best freshmen mark in ASU history. Coach Lein says the Chile native has the potential to do some great things.
'Ben is very good, and with a year of school now behind him and him becoming familiar with the area I don't think it is beyond expectations to say he will start winning tournaments,' says Coach Lein, as he watched Alvarado finish tied for seventh at the highly-competitive Southern Highlands Championship last March in Las Vegas. 'He showed flashes of it last year and I don't think there is any doubt he can easily take the next step this year.'
Andersson has only played in five events in his career as he has adjusted to life on the desert courses, not what he was used to in Sweden with tree-lined fairways. Lein expects his senior to push for a spot in the lineup with his solid iron game.
Telliard redshirted in 2003-2004, played in just four tournaments in 2004-2005 but then played in seven tournaments last season, including the NCAA Championship.
'Phil will get another shot to help this team,' says Lein of the communications major with a 3.26 grade point average. 'He is going to fight for a lineup spot each week. Once you have played in the NCAA Championship you want to get back there and improve, and that will be Phil's goal.'
Coach Lein has a trio of sophomores who all received some experience in their first year.
Local players Erik Coover (Desert Mountain High School) and Ryan Kelley (St. Mary's High School) each saw action last year. Coover played in four tournaments while Kelley saw action in three. Coover played in the Pac-10 Championship last year but broke both his wrists in August playing basketball so his recovery could slow him down.
'Both Erik and Ryan Kelley work with Scott Watkins (an ASU graduate who teaches at the Arizona Country Club) and that has been great for them,' notes Lein. 'Ryan's short game is his strength and he showed that last year in practice, while Erik is physically gifted and loves to practice. Both showed signs last year of being able to compete this year, and played in the Pac-10 last year.' Former competitive skier Steele DeWald, a 6-1 sophomore from Park City, Utah, took a year off of school before beginning his freshman year to work on his game and then competed in four events last year. He played six Gateway Tour events in the spring of 2005 and made the cut in three, so the talent already is there to compete on a high level.
'All three of the sophomore have had moments where you think they are ready to be a regular in the lineup,' says Lein, a five-time winner of Pac-10 Coach of the Year while at ASU.'
'I will be surprised if both of the freshmen aren't real close to cracking the lineup by February,' notes Lein. 'James and Tristan both made the lineup for the NCAA Preview and Tristan now has the first semester behind him, which always is tough for a foreign player. I think both of these Sun Devils are going to be great players very quickly.'
Including his 1996 NCAA title, Coach Lein has watched ASU notch nine NCAA top-10 finishes in his 14 seasons, the third-best mark in the nation behind only Oklahoma State and Clemson, who each have 10. He also has notched five top-five finishes (tied for fifth in the nation). ASU has won seven Pac-10 titles in his time and has finished outside the top three in the Pac-10 just once. The Sun Devils don't seem to go away, and need a good finish to reclaim some hardware. With proven All-Americans like Lemke and Alvarado Holley, the biggest trophy is the ultimate goal not only this year, but every year as a stellar recruiting class has been signed and will arrive in fall of 2007. Men's college golf is one of the most balanced championships there is among NCAA sports, as 10 different teams have won the team title in Lein's 14-year tenure. Lein has produced two NCAA individual champions in that time, the only coach to claim that distinction. So the table is set for more championships.
'Each year we talk to the guys about the importance of getting a third trophy,' says Lein, noting the 1996 and 1990 Sun Devils teams won national titles. 'Our goals are to improve each tournament and win the Pac-10 and NCAA Championship. We are due to make that happen and good enough to believe it will.'