2009 Men's Golf Preview
Feb. 2, 2009
SEATTLE -- The Huskies are riding high on momentum stemming from last year's seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championship, followed by a successful fall season that saw the UW finish ranked No. 12 in the nation.
'This team has as much potential as any team I've had,' said Huskies head coach Matt Thurmond.
And the Huskies, who earlier this year enjoyed a No. 4 national ranking by Golfweek, only look to get better after bringing in a junior transfer that is as solid as they come, returning a junior that took a year off and welcoming three sensational freshmen to add to an already talented group.
'So now I think we've turned into a really deep team,' said Thurmond. 'We have 10 guys that are good, and compete at high levels at these tournaments -- and many of them already have in the past.'
Thurmond said that his depth this year, which begins Wednesday at the Waikoloa Intercollegiate, is rivaled by only the other top programs in the nation, and will help his team look to achieve the not-so-basic goals they set every year by golfers in Montlake.
'Every year, you want to start with the same goal and result,' he said. 'You want to win an NCAA championship and you want to win the Pac-10 championship. Within that, you have other goals about what you want to be, and that changes every year.'
Finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA Championship Tournament four of the last five years, the Huskies are in prime position to realize those goals this season, as they are being led by a trio of juniors as good as any in the country, and it all starts with Nick Taylor.
In the 2007-08 season, Taylor, as a sophomore, finished runner-up to UCLA's Kevin Chappel at the NCAA Championship Tournament to conclude the 2008 season. Similar to a number of Huskies, Taylor, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., had a successful fall season that saw him take his first collegiate medalist honors at the CordeValle Collegiate and he will look to improve upon that 2008 finish. He was named Pac-10 Player of the Month for November of 2008.
'Nick Taylor is our captain this year. He will, in a lot of ways, dictate what we can accomplish,' Thurmond said.
Thought of as one of the premier college golfers in the country, Taylor has been ranked in the top 20 of Golfweek's Scratch Golfers Amateur rankings since the NCAA Championship. He burst onto the scene this past season due to his wedge play and his pension to raise his game to meet the demands of any occasion. Taylor was the runner-up at this year's World Amateur Team Championship in Adelaide, Australia during the fall.
Next in the Huskies lineup is newcomer Richard Lee. Although a transfer from Bellevue Community College this year, Lee stepped into Division I play this fall and played like a veteran, placing in the top 10 in all four of the Huskies' tournaments.
'Nick and Richard are both golfers that could be at the top of almost any team in the country and we got a bunch of guys that are very strong behind them,' Thurmond said. 'To have two players of that quality is rare in any program.'
A solid player who doesn't dominate any facet of the game, just consistently hits the right shot, the only flashy aspect of Lee's game is the result, the culmination of which is frequently among the top college golfers in the country. He finished the fall season ranked No. 21 in the Golfweek Men's Collegiate standings.
'Richard is just such a mature player,' Thurmond said. 'It's not a surprise to see him play like this -- he is just so far beyond the problems and emotions that most of the college players are dealing with.'
Steadiness under pressure is a common practice for this year's Husky team so far, as the UW has been stellar in the final round in all four of their fall tournaments, showing that the Dawgs don't just save their best for last, but maintain hitting quality shots throughout competition.
'That's one of the things we've talked about this year is we want to be great in the end, and that is so different from where we were last year,' Thurmond said. ' Our fall season has been very solid because of that, and it has been a real turnaround from last year.'
Of course, there are a number of changes from last year's squad, but the most notable is the UW's depth. Although it did not end up hurting them come tournament time, the Huskies had just seven players last season. That number jumped to 10 this year -- all with the ability to score.
'Last year, we had a really long, tough year on everybody, and we were down to just a few individuals at the end of the season and they really stepped up, gave us a great finish to the season and a lot of momentum into this year,' Thumond said.
That is no longer the case. In fact, the Huskies are getting contributions from players they weren't sure were going to be on the team, such as Chris Killmer, who was the medalist at the 2008 Husky Invitational. Killmer, a junior, took a year off from golf for personal reasons and rejoined the team in September with staggering results.
'Chris was an awesome player for us as a sophomore. He played well a couple years ago and was one of our better players,' Thurmond said. 'He really is a different person after taking a year off to take care of some things. It's just amazing that he can be gone for that long and come back better than ever.'
With his consistent play, Killmer has earned a rank of No. 35 in the country by Golfweek. Killmer led the Huskies to their first tournament win in three years in September at the UW's own Husky Invitational. This fall, he was named the Pac-10 Player of the Month for September.
With the foundation in place for the Huskies, what remains to be seen is how the final two spots of the lineup will pan out, and coach Thurmond is not without a bevy of options. First up is senior John Wise, winner of the 2006 Husky Invitational, and as experienced of a player as can be found.
'John's our only senior. He's a steady guy that goes about his business and has shown that he can have great rounds and tournaments,' Thurmond said.
Junior Darren Wallace was inked into the Huskies lineup from the first day of the 2008 season, as he played in every tournament the Huskies participated in.
'He's been such a big part on our team. He played in every tournament for us last year,' Thurmond said. 'Darren just has a natural game; we're really looking for him to be an integral part of our team again this year.'
And then there is sophomore Tze Huang Choo. As a freshman during the 2008 season, Choo finished 55th at the NCAA Championship and has been the top-ranked amateur golfer out of his homeland Singapore for the last three years.
'We're hoping Choo makes a big jump this year, and he looks ready to do that now that he's more settled in. He's been successful on a big stage -- he's a big game player, as he showed in last year's Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments,' Thurmond said.
This fall, Choo and two of his countrymen represented Singapore at the World Amateur Team Championship. Also looking for his chance to score for the Huskies is sophomore Kevin Spooner. Along with Taylor and Wallace, Spooner represents the strong Canadian influence that has helped the Huskies in their quest for a national championship. Also competing for a chance to score for the UW this year are three freshmen Jens Bracht, Dylan Goodwin and Ty Chambers.
'We were able to add five really good players who have brought great energy, work ethic and talent to the program,' Thurmond said. 'With so many new players, there is a whole new environment competitively, this year. You can no longer be lazy and throw away shots and still be in the starting five.'
Bracht is already making waves this season, as he finished third at the Husky Invitational and has added some length to a program that is primarily known for its short game. Indeed, this is a year of high expectations for a program that has already shown that it can live up to the pressures of the national spotlight. The Huskies handle that by playing with the mindset that the team goals are what's important.
'I think our guys are smarter than most,' said UW assistant coach Garrett Clegg. 'The way we play tactically, as a team, is better than most college teams.'
There is also a sense that while there is only one senior and half of the team consists of freshmen and sophomores, that the maturity level is just as high as in past years where upperclassmen dominated the roster. That maturity has already come in handy as Thurmond has been impressed by his golfers' ability to keep their heads while all around them, others are losing theirs.
'That is something you typically battle with players -- controlling your emotions on the course -- but that is not a problem with this team,' Thurmond said. 'These guys are so mature out there that it can really even out those highs and lows and make us a more consistent team than most.'