In sports terms, the 2002 men's golf season at ASU was a bump in the road, maybe a 'hiccough' or in the world of science fiction a 'freak' thing.
Whatever it was, it was put to rest in June of 2003 when the Sun Devils returned to the mix at the top of the NCAA leaderboard both as a team with its sixth-place finish and with the top individual who was just a freshman.
Arizona State men's golf not only claimed the NCAA individual champion last year, it laid claim to its ninth top-10 finish in the past 11 NCAA championships and with several top players returning this year, the Sun Devils expect to be back in the hunt for the NCAA crown. It also put in the rear-view mirror the injuries, bad luck and frustrations that kept it from making the NCAA championship for the 19th straight season in 2002.
'I knew that in the 2001-02 season we had a lot of things go wrong,' says 12th-year head coach Randy Lein. 'But I also knew that with the players we had coming back and the new players arriving that we could make some things happen in the immediate future. With the team we have coming back this year, championships and tournament victories are the goal. Last year we moved back to where we belong. Our goals remain the same, to develop our team throughout the year, win our tournament in early April, win the Pac-10 Tournament in late April, play well at the regionals and qualify for the NCAAs in mid-May and then compete as a team and individuals for the NCAA title.'
Lein has followed that script very well throughout his 11-year career, as he has won the ASU Thunderbird Invitational seven times, took home Pac-10 top honors seven times, qualified for the NCAAs in 10 of his 11 years and has finished in the top six eight times at the NCAAs with his usual solid lineup. Expect that pattern to continue this spring.
Lein will have the defending NCAA champion (Alejandro Canizares), the 2001 U.S. Public Links champion (Chez Reavie) and the 2001 Arizona Amateur champion (Jesse Mueller) ready to pencil in his lineup this year. Add in a few experienced players being pushed by several newcomers and the mix is right for a competitive team.
'With Chez and Alejandro we have proven winners and two of the best in the country,' says Lein. 'You love to have experience, but you want to have experience at winning. They have won major tournaments on the amateur level. That can and will help us this year.'
Last year at this time Alejandro Canizares was in Spain, not Tempe, as he arrived on the ASU campus in January and five months later was the NCAA champion. All he did along the way was establish an ASU record stroke average for freshman (71.65) and become the sixth freshman and the fourth Sun Devil to win a NCAA title. His hardware included the Outback Steakhouse Arnold Palmer Award (NCAA medalist), Pride/Softspikes Freshman of the Year and All-Freshman Team, PING First-Team All-American and Pacific Region and Pac-10 co-Freshman of the Year.
With that title came more recognition, as Canizares played for the Europeans in the Palmer Cup in June and helped lead his team to victory. The golf world realized he can also look to his father for advice, as dad is Jose Maria Canizares, a Champions Tour staple. Lein understood all this and knew that he Canizares was going to be a good one, and his hard-fought come from behind NCAA title exemplified his season.
Canizares shot a 5-over 77 on the first day but came back with 70-71-69 to finish a 1-under 287. He was the only one of 96 players to shoot under par for the four-day event and came back from six shots down on the final day.
With Canizares and Reavie, Lein knows he has two of the best students of the game in his lineup. It is no coincidence that Canizares was first in the country last year in par 3 scoring and ninth in the nation in final round scoring average (70.88), while Reavie was tied for 12th at 71.00 in final round scoring average. It is proof that as the tournament goes on, the Sun Devils improve.
'As spectacular as Alejandro was last year, Chez was just as good from a consistency standpoint,' notes Lein, a five-time winner of Pac-10 Coach of the Year in his 11 seasons at Arizona State. 'We have two of the best collegiate players this year in our lineup and they will do a great job of pushing each other and the returners.'
Reavie, a two-time All-American, posted nine top-10 finishes in his 13 events and had a 72.05 stroke average, including four straight top-10 finishes in March and April. With 29 career college events in his bag, Reavie will be among the best in the nation heading into his senior season. He has 14 top-10 finishes in his 29-tournament career.
'Chez has put together a very good career even though he had a major injury that kept him back in his sophomore season,' says Lein. 'He is very competitive and has taken care of himself physically, which has helped him on the course. He does well in the final round of tournaments because he studies the course and physically he does not get tired.'
Mueller, a 2003 Pacific-10 honorable mention All-Academic selection, had a 74.40 stroke average last year and has played in 22 tournaments. He also had a solid summer, matching an ASU Karsten Course record with a 62 in the Southwestern Amateur in June, a solid outing in the Arizona Amateur and victory at the Falcon Amateur with a 12-under 132 (67-65).
'Jesse has a chance to be very good,' notes Lein. 'He has had two very good seasons and also has played well throughout the summer. We expect good rounds from him every time he goes out.'
Derminio played in six events last year and is capable of low scores.
'I think Michael can have a really good senior season. His natural athletic ability is exceptional and he has proven how good he can play on the amateur circuit. He needs to be and should be much more consistent in his final year.'
Flam competed in 10 events last year, third on the team, and had a 73.65 stroke average.
'With Chez and Alejandro we have proven winners and two of the best in the country.'
Coach Randy Lein
'Ben has a lot of amateur experience and just needs to take advantage of opportunities. I think he can be a big factor on how good of a season we will have this year.'
'Brett has posted a number of rounds in the 60s this summer and could finish up his Sun Devil career in great fashion,' notes Lein.
'All of those guys will have a chance to compete for a lineup spot. They are all very good students with great attitudes which is great to have around the younger guys. If you surround your team with good people then good things will happen.'
If it wasn't for Canizares' heroics the most pleasant surprise of last year would have been Kendall Critchfield. Critchfield will be a junior this year and competed in eight events last year and had a 74.65 stroke average after competing in just three events in his rookie year. He fired a collegiate career-best 65 at the Thunderbird Invitational in April an also had a 71 at the NCAA West Regional.
'Kendall competed as well as anyone last year,' says Lein. 'He never backed down always followed tough rounds with a good one. Last year gave him a lot of confidence so I am really excited to see him compete with the new players this fall. He was, without a doubt, our most improved player.'
Pat Moore competed in three events last year after playing in nine his freshman year. He will look to regain the form that shot a practice-round 62 at ASU Karsten Golf Course in 2002.
'Those two guys had time to get settled in last year,' says Lein of their freshman seasons. 'Now they are ready to compete for a regular spot. Lenny got better as the year went on and now that Charly has a semester of college behind him I expect both of them to have a shot to play.
'Lenny has played a lot this summer in the west. He also qualified for the A&L back in New Jersey and made it into match play. His scoring has much improved and I expect him to be ready to earn a starting position this fall. Charly played an extensive amateur schedule in Spain.'
Three newcomers arrive this year and Lein can't wait to give them the maroon and gold Ping and Adidas gear and get them on the course.
Fredrik Andersson, Niklas Lemke and Phillip Telliard all arrive with high expectations. Andersson and Lemke are both from Sweden, and with the success Lein has had with players from across the Atlantic recently, expect the same from them.
Paul Casey, a three-time Pac-10 champion and the 2001 European Rookie of the Year, came to ASU from England in 1997, while Canizares arrived from Spain last January and now is the NCAA champion.
'Arizona State does a tremendous job in helping foreign students become familiar with the collegiate setting, so that helps,' says Lein. 'Fredrik and Niklas have a tremendous amount of international experience while Phillip also will compete for a lineup as soon as he gets on campus.
'I've coached players from eight different countries. I think it is an incredible opportunity for our domestic players to learn another one's customs. Again, golf is growing in popularity around the world. The European Junior Championships were hosted by the Czech Republic this year. No one would have thought of this ten years ago. Almost a third of this year's All-Americans were foreign players.'
Put all that talent on paper and you have a very good team. Lein knows the key to getting the NCAA championship, like his team did in 1996, is to develop chemistry and to be a bit lucky. Lein's group is the only Pac-10 team to win the NCAA title in the past nine years.
'We had a lot of talent in 1996, but we also had a group of guys who got along well and pushed each other. We had some good luck and we created the opportunity to win the title by jumping out on the first day of the championships to a lead. That team had the mentality to win the title.
'I believe our 1995 and 1997 teams were just as good. The best team does not always win. Just like the game of golf, it does take some good bounces to win the national title.'
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