Young, Experienced Roster For Wildcats
By Kevin Sullivan
Philip Bagdade, a senior for the golf team at the University of Arizona, is being counted on to lead his fellow teammates to success both on and off the fairway. After losing six players last year, including All-American Tarquin MacManus, the Wildcats are looking to their younger players to fill the void.
Bagdade started playing golf in his hometown of Eugene, Ore. Bagdade first knew he wanted to play golf when he walked into a sporting goods store and saw a set of plastic clubs. Once he outgrew what his father could teach him in the backyard, Bagdade sought out a golf instructor.
Al Mundle became Bagdade's golfing instructor. From the ages of nine to 15, Mundle helped Bagdade develop his golf career.
"Al was responsible for teaching me all the fundamentals of golf. I learned a lot of things from him. He was just a great mentor," said Bagdade.
As Bagdade got older, he started to play golf continuously.
"During the summer I would spend entire days at the golf course," said Bagdade. "Hitting a golf shot is such a wonderful feeling."
After his father took a job in Phoenix, Ariz., Bagdade started taking lessons in Scottsdale. After going to Arizona every six weeks for three years, Bagdade started to learn about the golf environment that the state had to offer.
"The golf tradition down here is really big," said Bagdade.
As a sophomore, Bagdade was one of the best players on Arizona's team. When his junior year came, he hit a bit of a slump. Now in his senior year, although he has to work to get his starting job back, he finds himself in the role of senior leader.
"It's a role that I'm happy to fill," said Bagdade. "I got burned out and had to take some time off and recharge my batteries. But now I'm ready to go."
Bagdade and teammate Kenji Hernandez are the only seniors on the team.
Head coach Rick LaRose sees Bagdade as invaluable. "He's definitely a team leader," said LaRose. "That's exactly what we're looking for."
Bagdade has huge responsibilities outside of golf as well, including a huge course load to pair with his place on the student athletic board. Bagdade says that he is starting to enjoy his studies more this year.
LaRose has high hopes for Bagdade and knows that the Wildcats need him on their team.
"We're going to count on Phil more than we ever had in the past," said LaRose.
LaRose has been the head coach at the University of Arizona for 38 years and has "seen it all." This year, LaRose finds himself coaching a very young team. All six of their starters are either freshmen or sophomores (three freshmen and three sophomores). Their top overall player is sophomore Erik Oja, making the future look very bright for the Wildcats.
"You have to keep getting better. And these guys will. Trust me," said LaRose.
Arizona has been in 27 of the last 33 NCAA championship tournaments, and they have a tradition of excellence and high expectations. This season is no exception.
"You've go to aim high. We're not shooting for mediocrity," said LaRose.
One of the things Bagdade wants to do is make sure that the younger players adjust well to competing at a D-I level.
"It's a big adjustment," said Bagdade. "Maybe they were a super star where they come from, but then they come here and everyone else feels the same. I want to leave the guys that are remaining with an idea of what has come before them."
Despite the fact that Arizona has only played two tournaments this fall, where they placed fourth and seventh respectively, the team seems to be jelling.
"There are probably a lot of people who would bet against us for winning the national title or even competing for one, but I have faith in my teammates and if we were to play at the level we're capable of I think we'd be competitive," said Bagdade.
Both LaRose and Bagdade are looking forward to what this season will bring. In such a long season, anything can happen. LaRose believes that if Bagdade can play at the level he was at two years ago he will make it back into the starting lineup.
"Phil's got a great attitude," said LaRose.
Bagdade's main goal is to enjoy his final year at Arizona. He wants to maintain a balance between golf and school work and leave his teammates with the knowledge he has gained over the years.
"It's a long season, but I'm looking forward to getting into it," he said.