2004 Spring Outlook
Dec. 29, 2003
It's a list that Washington golf coach Matt Thurmond likes to pull out when he talks about the Husky program's recent ascent.
Last year when Washington teed it up at Oklahoma State's Karsten Creek Golf Course for the 2003 NCAA Championships it marked the Huskies fifth straight appearance at the national tournament. Only six other teams have accomplished that feat. Arizona, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Minnesota have also made five consecutive trips to the NCAAs.
'People are really surprised to hear Washington mentioned with those other teams,' Thurmond says. 'It's like we're playing golf in Siberia or something. I'm not sure if it really bothers our players, but I do know it motivates them. They are all from around the Northwest and they love to tee it up and show they're more than capable of playing with just about anybody.'
No one proved that point better than senior Brock Mackenzie did this summer. Competing for the United States team at the Walker Cup, Mackenzie won all three of his matches against amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland. After winning the Husky Invitational in the fall, he jumped to the top spot in Golfweek's Collegiate Rankings.
Last year Mackenzie finished fifth at the NCAAs, was picked a PING first-team All-American and became the first Husky to repeat as an All-Pac-10 selection. He shot par or better in 25 of 43 rounds and led the team with a 71.63 stroke average that ranks as the second-best in Washington history.
Mackenzie's epic season was highlighted at the Oregon Invitational when he equaled a pair of collegiate records by shooting 12-under 60 during the second 18 holes of play of the tournament's opening day. Only two other college players have matched that net score and only one equaled his score against par.
'It was a special season for Brock but that has only made him the hungrier to have an even better senior season,' Thurmond says. 'He is unquestionably one of the best players in the country. The last two years he's been on the watch list for the Hogan Player-of-the-Year Award. Considering what he did at the Walker Cup and the start he had this fall, he will be a serious contender to win it this year.'
Mackenzie along with senior Dan Potter are Washington's two returning players who competed at the NCAA Championships. They'll be joined by senior Corey Prugh, sophomore Dustin Frontis, redshirt freshmen Erik Olson and Cody Upham and true freshmen Alex Prugh and Reid Rader. James Lepp, a transfer from Illinois who was the Big Ten player of the year last season, will redshirt the season.
'Brock, Dan and Corey have been a big part of creating the atmosphere here that there is now an expectation to qualify for the NCAAs,' Thurmond says. 'They have all had wonderful careers and have been a part of some exciting accomplishments for our program. They've done things here that have never been done before.
'The one thing they do not have is a ring. Whether it is a Pac-10 Championship or a national championship, that's their focus. They want a championship ring.'
While the Huskies have played in the NCAA Championship 16 times, the team has never managed to place higher than fourth (1942, 1999). Washington's last conference title was in 1988.
Lofty goals? Maybe, but just two years ago the Huskies entered the final round of NCAA play paired in the final groupings of the day.
Thurmond feels Mackenzie is the perfect player to lead the charge.
'His drive and commitment to winning is much greater now that he wants to do more than just do well. He wants to win and he's capable of doing it every time he plays.'
This fall Mackenzie posted a stroke average of 69.92 in four events and made his third straight appearance at the Collegiate All-American Classic. He won the Husky Invitational by seven strokes, shooting 8-under 208 for the fourth championship victory in his career. He enters the spring with 27 top-10 finishes as a Husky.
'When it matters the most Brock Mackenzie is at his best,' Thurmond says. 'That's what makes great players. When we've needed a big round over the last couple of years, every time he's come through. Look at nationals last year. We didn't play real well as a team, but Brock was out there battling for the title.'
'Brock has the ability to carry the weight of the team on his shoulders and that will help some of the younger players develop. They know they can play aggressive and not worry about the pressure. It's nice he can handle all of that responsibility. The team is important to him and he takes a lot of pride in our team doing well.'
While Mackenzie draws most of the attention, Potter and Prugh have the playing experience to keep the Huskies in tournament contention.
Potter has appeared at two NCAA championships and is coming off his best fall. He posted a 72.66 stroke average in four tournaments and was UW's top finisher at two events.
'Dan played really well this fall despite the fact he had to deal with a sore back that limited his practice time,' Thurmond says. 'He strikes the ball with a lot of consistency.'
Potter, who has carded a low round of 64 during his career, was the medalist at the 2003 Washington State Golf Association's Men's Amateur championship. He has appeared in 31 collegiate events.
'I think Dan will be more assertive and aggressive this year,' Thurmond says. 'He's started to develop a little attitude and that's good. He can be an All-American player. He just has to go out and take it.'
Prugh's experiences closely mirrors Potter's. He has played in 32 tournaments, including a pair of NCAA championships (2001 and 2002) and posted five top-10 finishes. He owns Washington's record for a four-round score (275) that he shot as a freshman when he placed fourth at the Pac-10 championship.
'If we are going to reach our potential this spring, Corey Prugh is going to play a key role in our success,' Thurmond says. 'I think its time Corey stepped it up. He's very talented, has had some success and his game is solid. Sometimes he can put too much pressure on himself. This year I just want him to relax and have a great senior season.'
Olson, Upham and Frontis round out the trio of other returning players. Olson finished the fall third on the team with a stroke average of 72.88 in three events. He placed fifth at the Husky Invitational and followed that up with the best 54-hole in his career, shooting even-par 213 at The Nelson. Upham played in three fall events with a stroke average of 75.44. Frontis appeared in four tournaments a year ago.
'Erik's mechanics are sound and he hits the ball with a lot of consistency,' Thurmond says. 'He's very straight off the tees and accurate with his irons. He can do a lot with the golf ball. He can hit the draw, the fade, hit it high, and hit it low. For a freshman, he is very advanced with his swing and the kind of shots he can hit is more developed than a lot of older players.
'Cody has a solid overall game,' says the third-year coach. 'He hits the ball well off the tee and posses a soft touch around the greens. Cody is a good chipper and putter. He just needs a little more consistency. He had a tough fall, but I was impressed that he gutted it out a couple of times and turned in his best round at the end of a tournament.'
Freshman Alex Prugh, Corey's younger brother, figures to be a regular in the Husky lineup. Prugh won the 2003 state 4A championship and was 25th at the Pacific Coast Amateur last summer.
'I think Alex has the chance to be a great player,' Thurmond says. 'I think he can contend to be the freshman of the year in the Pac-10. He is a player that is just going to get better and better. He hits the ball really long and really straight. He putts well. He's very mature for a freshman and that's probably because he played in a lot of the big amateur events as a junior against some of the best players in the country.'
Freshman Reid Rader, the Seattle prep player of the year.
'Reid has a wonderful short game and I expect to see his driving improve when he no longer has to deal with a sore back,' Thurmond says. 'He has won a lot of tournaments and he knows what it takes to compete. He has a great sense of confidence and in time is going to be a tough competitor.'
Husky golf fans will have to wait until next fall to watch Lepp tee it up for the Huskies. He earned second-team All-America honors last year and was named the co-player of the year along with Mackenzie by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association.
'He's pretty parallel to Brock in record and ability, but completely different in terms of approaching the game,' Thurmond says. ' Guys like Brock and James know they're good and that spills over. You get a couple of guys like that on your team and then everyone starts thinking that way. He may not be able to play for us this year, but he's good at sharing and will be a benefit to some of our younger players.'
With a roster comprised entirely of players from the Pacific Northwest, the Huskies will play seven tournaments in the spring before heading to the NCAA Regionals and a quest for a possible sixth straight NCAA appearance.
'This year we will depend on some young players who are very talented, but they have not been in certain pressure situations yet,' Thurmond says. 'I am anxious to see how they react. I'm also excited for our three seniors to end on a high note. I think this team has as much talent as we've ever had. It will be fun to see what they can accomplish.'
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