2007 Men's Golf Season Preview
Feb. 2, 2007
Coming off the two best postseason performances in program history, the Washington men's golf team has a lot to look forward to in 2007. If last year's showing at the NCAA Championships is any indication, the Huskies are only one round away from their ultimate goal - winning a national title.
After finishing second at the Pac-10 Championships and third at the West Regional last year, Washington led the entire field at the 2006 NCAA Championships for three rounds before falling to a ninth place finish when it was all said and done.
For sixth-year head coach Matt Thurmond, that ninth place finish had more significance than a school-record third-place finish in 2005 - a year that also saw Washington win the Pac-10 title and place third at regionals.
'That was quite a run over the last two years so it felt like the last year in many ways was a culmination of two years of work,' Thurmond said. 'To tee it up in the final round of the NCAA Championship with a three-shot lead was probably the highlight of all of our careers. It didn't end the way we wanted to, but we still had a great time doing it. Our ninth place finish, despite the poor performance the last day, I wouldn't trade it for the third place finish when we didn't have a chance to win. The fact is, for three rounds we dominated the NCAA Championships. It was a very special season for a special group who came together at the end of the year.'
The good news for Thurmond is that three key members of last year's special group are back in 2007 - seniors Alex Prugh and Erik Olson, and junior Zach Bixler. The bad news is the loss of 2005 NCAA champion James Lepp - the leader of the Husky contingent the last two years - to graduation. But back to some good news - Washington welcomes five extremely talented newcomers that give Thurmond more depth to work with than he's had in some time.
'It's an exciting team because there is so much more talent, and so much more depth than we've had the last couple years,' Thurmond said. 'The last couple years we were really struggling to find a 4-5-6 guy to fill out our lineup. But this year, we're 10 strong.'
Experience is another key factor for this 2007 squad with Prugh, Olson and Bixler having had the experience of being major contributors to the team's success the past two seasons. It all bodes well for high expectations for another shot at the team's ultimate goal - an NCAA title.
'The thing is, we've been there and we've been very successful,' Thurmond said. 'Most of our team knows what it's like and knows what to expect. I wouldn't be at all surprised to have another great postseason this year and have another chance going into the final round of the NCAA Championships.'
So the key ingredients are there - experience, talent and depth - and Thurmond can't wait to get his new team on the links this spring.
In addition to Prugh, Olson and Bixler, the 2007 roster features sophomore returners Kellen Eakin and John Wise, along with sophomore transfer Chris Killmer who was a standout freshman at Cal State Bakersfield last season. The four freshmen are Joel Dahmen, Chris Evans, Nick Taylor and Darren Wallace.
Looking to lead the way will be returning senior All-Americans Prugh and Olson.
Prugh is a two-time PING All-American and a two-time All-Pac-10 selection - including a first-team all-conference nod in 2006. Prugh was the Huskies' top finisher in seven of 12 events last season and his 10 top-10 career finishes rank sixth most in Husky history. His 72.2 stroke average as a junior also ranks fifth on the UW single-season list.
Prugh is poised for a stellar senior spring campaign, after leading the Huskies as the top finisher in three of their four fall tournaments. He gained added experience this past summer competing in the British Amateur and the U.S. Amateur, while also being selected to take part in the 2006 Western Refining College All-America Classic and the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup practice squad.
'Alex has come so far in his four years here, I'm just so proud of him - the kind of man he's turned out to be and just how seriously he takes his work,' Thurmond said. 'I would hope that all the guys would watch and be like him. Alex is always preparing, he is always ready. He's just a great guy to have on the team.'
Right there with Prugh will be Olson, a 2004 All-American, two-time All-Pac-10 selection and 2005 Pac-10 medalist. His eight top-10 finishes rank 11th in UW history heading into his senior season. Last year, Olson followed up his winning run with a third-place finish at the 2006 Pac-10 Championships. He also earned some valuable experience over the summer, competing in the 2006 U.S. Amateur and finishing as the runner-up at the 2006 PNGA Men's Amateur.
'Erik has a beautiful all-around game,' Thurmond said. 'He doesn't really have a weakness. He's the kind of guy that at any given time can step up and win some tournaments for us.'
The lone junior on the Husky squad is Bixler, who earned honorable mention All-American honors last season. He turned in a strong postseason as a sophomore, finishing third at the 2006 West Regional and 20th at the NCAA Championship. He shot six rounds under par, all in the 60's, and finished the season with a 73.66 stroke average. Last summer, Bixler won the 2006 WSGA Men's Amateur and joined Prugh at the 2006 Western Refining College All-America Classic.
'Zach is more of our emotional leader,' Thurmond said. 'He's such a fierce competitor. When the bell goes off and it's time for Zach to play, he can do some amazing things. He's just a guy you want to go into battle with you. When you need someone to come through for you, Zach's the guy.'
Rounding out the five returners from last year's squad are sophomores Eakin and Wise. As true freshmen, Eakin played in one varsity event and Wise played in two. This past fall, Eakin played in two varsity tournaments and set a career-high with a fourth-place finish at a junior varsity event - the UBC Men's Invitational.
'Kellen has improved a lot from last season,' Thurmond said. 'I'm enjoying watching him mature and gain confidence as a golfer and I think he is close to having a breakthrough.'
Wise came out in his season debut to win the Opus NW Husky Invitational, shooting seven-under 209. He also competed in the PING/Golfweek Preview during the 2006 fall season.
'It was nice to see John win a tournament, and to see the kind of strength he had inside of him. He's hardly played in college tournaments so to hold a lead like he did, extend it and hold up under that kind of pressure just shows the kind of person he is.'
The Huskies then welcome five newcomers to their fold, beginning with sophomore transfer Killmer. Killmer made a solid collegiate debut at NCAA Division II Cal State Bakersfield last year. He was a third-team All-American and won the Phil Mickelson Freshman of the Year award. Killmer played in two fall tournaments for the Huskies after transferring, tying for 20th at the Opus NW Husky Invitational and tying for 68th at the PING/Golfweek Preview.
Four true freshmen also join the team this season, many of whom could make an immediate impact on the Husky squad in 2007. Dahmen, a product of Clarkston High School in Clarkson, Wash., showed early promise in the fall playing in four varsity tournaments. He shot rounds of 69 in three of the four tournaments and notched his best finish in his collegiate debut at the Opus NW Husky Invitational, tying for 15th.
Evans hails from Shelton High School and Grapeview, Wash., and played in three fall tournaments for the Huskies - including two junior varsity events. His best collegiate finish to date was tying for ninth at the UBC Men's Invitational. Evans also won the 2006 West Seattle Amateur and was the runner-up at the 2006 PNGA Men's Public Links Championship.
Two Canadian standouts round out the Huskies' freshman class with Taylor and Wallace. Both players made their collegiate debuts in four fall tournaments in 2006, and both made their strongest showings at the UBC Invitational. Taylor won the event, shooting 2-over 218 and Wallace was the runner-up, shooting seven-over 223.
Taylor carded a 69 in his first collegiate round at the Opus NW Husky Invitational and went on to place 10th in his debut. He came to UW after winning the 2006 Canadian Boys Championship and advancing as far as the quarterfinals in match play at the 2006 Canadian Men's Amateur. Wallace also qualified for match play at the 2006 Canadian Men's Amateur and was the youngest player to ever win the Canadian Amateur in 2004.
With the roster set and the talent in place, Thurmond believes the team has the intangibles to get back to being in a position to achieve its ultimate goal - and see it through to the end.
'Last year we had the ability to really rise to the occasion,' he said. 'And you always want your team to have that so I hope the team this year and forever more has the ability to bring out their best under the highest pressure. If there's anything I want to improve on, I want us to become a little more consistent. I'd love to see us have more in-season success, because last year, had we been in that position a little more often we might have handled that a little better.'
Going into the spring season with an even more experienced and talented squad than in years past, it would appear as if all the ingredients are in place for yet another history-making season of Husky men's golf.