Men's Golf Ready To Tee Off Spring Season

Jan. 11, 2001

It's a potent mix of old and new for USC men's golf in 2000-2001.

Four of the top five golfers return from last year's team which, despite its youth, peaked at key moments and found itself playing in the NCAA tournament at season's end.

At the same time, five freshman have replenished the roster, including one who has the potential to be considered among USC's all-time greats before he is through.

The immediate result of this mix was an enticing fall performance that has Trojan head coach Kurt Schuette excited heading into the spring.

'I like the position we're in,' said Schuette, who is in the middle of his seventh year as men's golf coach at USC. 'We didn't have a lot of accolades coming into this year, but we have done well so far and I feel we can surprise some people this spring.'

As a team, the Trojans showed steady improvement this past fall, finishing in the top 10 in four of five tournaments, including three top five finishes. USC narrowly missed the team title when it finished second at the Windon Memorial Classic in Lake Forest, Ill., but came back a week later to win the Taylor Made Red River Classic in Dallas, Tex.--Schuette's eighth men's team championship while at USC. The Trojans then finished sixth in a strong field that included most of the top teams in the nation at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate in Birmingham, Ala. These three performances taught Schuette's team a valuable lesson.

'I think at the Red River Classic, we learned how to win,' Schuette said. 'But after the Jerry Pate, we figured out quickly why we didn't win. We now know that we need to learn how to take care of business and close the deal at a tournament. We have plenty of fuel for the fire, so to speak, heading into the spring. I think we also have a quiet confidence, yet we understand there is much work ahead to reach the promised land.'

Schuette has plenty of confidence in a talented roster that features what he says is potentially his best 'starting five' in his USC tenure.

'I think we have a good combination of chemistry, talent and work ethic,' said Schuette. 'This group will make good choices and work hard. When you mix that it in with the talent we have, I feel this can be one of the better teams that I've ever coached.'

Nick Jones is the veteran of the group, having played in 38 career tournaments. The senior got off to a hot start in the fall with two top 10 finishes (including a runner up finish at the Windon Memorial) and his stroke average of 72.1 is second-best on the team.

'Nick has really improved a lot since he was a freshman, culminating in his win last summer at the California State Amateur,' said Schuette. 'He has the lowest fall stroke average that he has had since he has been here and he has traditionally been a slow starter, so for him to get off to a good start is a welcome change. I think he's going to have a good spring for us.'

Junior Kevin Stadler showed steady improvement last season and was second on the squad with a stroke average of 73.1. He has a chance to be one of the top golfers on the West Coast in 2001.

'Kevin improved tremendously from his freshman to sophomore year,' said Schuette. 'If he can make similiar strides from last year to this year, it can be a real bonus for our team.'

Senior Alex Kuyumjian came to USC at mid-season last year and made an immediate impact, helping to propel the Trojans into the NCAA tournament and even leading the team with a stroke average of 72.9. Kuyumjian sat out the fall to concentrate on academics but should be ready to go in the spring.

'I'm not sure we would have made it to the NCAA championship without Alex,' said Schuette. 'He was a big boost to our success at the end of last spring.'

Sophomore David Oh is looking to make a big jump this season after an inconsistent freshman year. He played very well at the Pac-10 and Regional Championships.

'David is a big key for us this season,' said Schuette. 'If he continues to show improvement in the spring, he'll be another weapon that we can rely on.'

Walk-on sophomore Chris Botsford has already shown his mettle with a key performance at the Red River Classic.

'Chris is very committed to helping the team and is a very hard worker,' said Schuette. 'He's improved his fundamentals over the last year and has added needed depth to our lineup.'

This year's team has a completely new look with the addition of five freshmen. The future of Trojan golf has a completely new outlook as a result.

'The freshmen are all positive and hard working,' said Schuette. 'The chemistry change has really come with them. It's been like a breath of fresh air.'

One freshman Trojan has been head and shoulders above practically every other freshman in the nation so far this season. That freshman is Hunter Mahan of McKinney, Tex., who came to USC as the No. 1-ranked junior golfer in the nation and has not disappointed. He leads the team in stroke average with a phenomenal mark of 70.0 and has already won two individual titles. His 54-hole total of 204 in his win at the Red River Classic was the lowest such score by a Trojan since Sam Randolph shot 200 in 1985. Then, one week later, Mahan shot the lowest known round in USC history when he fired a second round 63 on his way to a fourth place finish at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate. By the end of the fall season, Mahan was ranked fifth in the MasterCard Individual rankings.

'There's a reason he was the No. 1 junior competitor in the country,' said Schuette. 'That reason is that he's one of the most focused individuals I've ever come across as a coach. He has definitely lived up to his reputation coming in.'

Four other freshmen--John Callaghan, Justin Cleveland, Ali Haji and Roderick de Lacy Staunton--have walked on and will provide much needed depth and flexibility.

'The rest of the freshmen will be striving for playing time,' said Schuette. 'How quickly they improve will decide how much they play. They all have the potential to make a contribution to the team. All of them understand that and are excited to be a part of it.'

It's no wonder Schuette is looking forward to the spring season. One reason will be the much-anticipated additon of a short-game facility on the USC campus that will allow Trojan golfers to practice to their hearts' content.

'We're going to have access to a facility that our players can use between classes or on weekends,' notes Schuette. 'We really need more short game improvement than we do ball-striking work, so it'll be a tremendous help to both our men's and women's programs.'

The short game facility is one of several positive changes that have occured in the USC golf program since Schuette came on board. After seven years at the helm, he is as positive as ever about the direction of USC golf.

'It's all been a great experience for me,' said Schuette. 'We've restored some of the things I felt we needed to do to make an impact at the national level. One of those things was to first recruit the best players out of Southern Califrona and then to get the best guys nationally. I think it'll help us in the future to be a more consistent program, one that year in and year out competes for Pac-10 championships and national championships. That's my ultimate goal for the program.'

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