Washington Men's Golfers Look to Build off Fall Success
Jan. 23, 2003
Seattle - How do you follow up what was arguably the best season in the Washington golf program's history?
How do you improve on five tournament championships, including the NCAA West Regional Championship, and the second-best finish ever in school history?
Well, you start by returning all five players who comprised the lineup at the NCAAs, add a couple of other returning veterans and throw in a talented three-man freshman class. It probably does not hurt to play host to the NCAA West Regional Championship on your home course.
'I think playing in the final group at the NCAAs last year, and finishing 11th overall, really helped to raise our expectations,' says second-year coach Matt Thurmond. 'We want to get back there. Our guys know that is a tough challenge. But I think they have all reflected on the experience. They're committed to getting back there and, this time, really taking advantage of the opportunity.'
Thurmond has a total of seven letterwinners back to build around. The lone senior who graduated was Gordy Scutt, who played 126 rounds for Washington and became the first Husky to win back-to-back titles during his senior season.
The Huskies spring schedule includes six tournaments, the Pac-10 Championships at Oakmont Country Club and the NCAA West Region at UW's own Washington National Golf Club. But to make a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, the Huskies are going to have to pick up their level of play after a somewhat disappointing fall campaign.
Washington finished ninth at the Fall Preview, sixth at the Mackenzie Invitational and The Prestige and was second at The Nelson. The Huskies were also eliminated in the first round of the inaugural Match Play Championship. Washington was ranked eighth in Golfweek's preseason poll but finished the fall in 26th place in the standings.
'I think one of the reasons we did not play so well in the fall was because we were still experiencing a bit of a letdown after the NCAAs,' Thurmond says. 'We're behind that now. Who knows, that might actually serve to get this team focused for the season. I know one thing. These guys are ready to get back out there and to get after it.'
Heading up the Husky lineup is All-American Brock Mackenzie. Last season the lanky junior set the school record for stroke average at 71.1 and finished 17th at the NCAA Championships. Mackenzie posted 11 top-10 finishes last year and won two tournaments. He was a semifinalist for the Hogan Award presented to the nation's top collegiate golfer.
'Brock showed a lot of maturity between his freshman and sophomore seasons and that was reflected in his play,' Thurmond says. 'He gained a lot of confidence and showed that he is capable of winning any tournament on any given day.'
Mackenzie was the Huskies' top scorer in seven of 14 events and finished fourth and paced Washington to its NCAA Regional Championship with a fourth-place finish. Last summer Mackenzie won the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship and was named one of 15 collegiate players selected to participate in The Walker Cup practice sessions.
During the fall Mackenzie led the Huskies in stroke average at 71.5 and was Washington's top finisher in three of four events. His 202 at The Nelson equaled the school record for a 54-hole score. He also made his second consecutive appearance at the Collegiate All-American Classic where he placed fourth. He enters the spring ranked 25th by Golfweek in its collegiate individual standings.
'You never have to worry about motivating Brock,' Thurmond says. 'He's trying to be one of the best players in the country. He has set very high goals for himself and he is doing all of the little things to take himself from being a very good golfer to one who can achieve those goals. I think he is going to have a great season for us and it puts us in a great situation to have a lead horse like Brock.'
The three seniors on the 2003 Husky team are Conner Robbins, John Robertson and Derek Berg. Robertson is in a position to finish his career as the most experienced player in the program's history. He enters the spring having played 120 rounds and needs just 20 more to move into the lead on UW's all-time chart.
Robertson's junior year was his finest as a Husky. He posted a stroke average of 72.52, trailing only Mackenzie for the best single-season mark in Washington history. Robertson's efforts were rewarded when he was named a second-team All-Pac-10 performer. He posted four top-10 finishes and set the school 18-hole record with a score of 64. Robertson has played in three NCAA Championships during his career. He enters the spring ranked 94th by Golfweek.
'John is such a hard worker and very, very consistent in his scoring,' Thurmond says. 'He is a great example to our younger players of what you can accomplish if you really apply yourself to the sport. He has done just about everything you can hope to do during a career with the exception of winning a tournament. And, he is more than capable of doing that.
'I really like what John brings to us in terms of being a team player. He has a polished game. He is very mature mentally and he is a scrapper. I know the other players really respect his abilities.'
Robbins has played in 26 collegiate tournaments and started the fall season strong placing fifth at the PING Fall Preview. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick last year, he posted a 73.16 scoring average as a junior, the best of his career. He carded a 202 at the Western Intercollegiate to set a school record for a 54-hole event.
'Conner is coming of a really good summer where he made it to the final 16 at the U.S. Amateur and then he started the fall well at The Preview,' Thurmond says. 'He is a very aggressive player and that can be both his strength and his weakness. He does not lack for ability or confidence. If he can become more consistent, and balance out his aggressive play, he will make us a very, very good team.'
Berg has appeared in 24 tournaments during his Husky career, including the NCAA Championships as a freshman and sophomore. Last season he posted his best stroke average as a collegiate at 73.5 and was the Huskies' top finisher at the PING Intercollegiate tournament. During 13 rounds of play, he posted scores in the 60s on four occasions. Last summer Berg won a U.S. Amateur Qualifying event and reached the round of 32 at the national tournament.
'Derek has demonstrated in the past that he's capable of making the tournament lineup and really contributing to our overall play,' Thurmond says. 'He's an aggressive player who can put together some hot streaks. He's worked to be more consistent and is very motivated to finish strong during his senior season.'
In addition to Mackenzie, the Husky lineup features a pair of veteran juniors who are expected to be regulars in UW's tournament roster. Both Dan Potter and Corey Prugh are two-year lettermen who have led the Huskies in scoring in the past.
Prugh is the more experienced of the duo, having played in 23 tournaments. He has five top-10 finishes on his resume and posted a final stroke average of 73.29 last season. Prugh bettered that during the fall, shooting an average of 72.17 during two events. As a freshman he established the Husky record for a four-round score with the 9-under 275 he shot to finish fourth at the Pac-10 Championships.
'It is interesting to look at the year Corey had last season,' Thurmond says. 'I do not think he was that pleased with his effort and would like to become more consistent in his scoring. But, then you have to consider his stroke average, while the fourth best on the team, was the sixth highest in the history of the program. He is another player on our roster who has the ability to go out and win a tournament. I think he had a great fall and is closer to the player he was as a freshmen when he led us in three events.'
Rick Doerr, who has appeared in just three tournaments, is the lone sophomore for the Huskies. He demonstrated his abilities in the fall when he finished second for Washington at The Nelson with a 2-over score of 215.
'Rick surprised me this fall in terms of how far he has brought his game,' Thurmond says. 'It would be easy for him to sit back and wait for some of the more veteran guys to graduate to earn a spot in the lineup, but that is not his approach. He comes into the season with a lot more maturity and has shown that he can play under pressure. He is going to make some things interesting.'
With so much depth returning from last year's team, Thurmond will not have to rely heavily on his three-man freshman class that includes Dustin Frontis, Erik Olson and Cody Upham.
'They are an interesting group,' Thurmond says. 'Erik is a very good ball striker and he has a lot of experience on the junior golf circuit, so he probably has the best chance to push for a position in the lineup. We also gave Dustin a look in the fall. He is a solid putter and just needs to get some experience in competitive situations. He has a nice future with the Huskies.'
Thurmond enters the spring with three specific goals for his team.
'Number one, I want us to be a great putting team,' he says. 'We are going to work on that a lot in practice. Number two, I want to have a real unified team that really works together. Right now it is a challenge because we are a little top heavy as far as age goes. I really want to get the seniors, juniors and then the freshman and sophomores all on the same page. That is a challenging because their interests are so much different.
'Finally, I want to have the team with the most depth and consistency. One thing that really helped us last year was that we prided ourselves of having the best throw-out score in the nation. Most of the year our fifth guy was the best in the country. That is one of our goals this year. I want it to be every guy's goal to have a score that counts for the day. Not necessarily win the tournament, but contribute to the team. We want at the end of the tournament for our fifth guy to be the best fifth guys in the field. Over time, that attitude will result in more consistency and depth for us.'
And hopefully another trip to the NCAA Championships.