2008 Men's Golf Season Preview
Jan. 25, 2008
What seven-year head coach Matt Thurmond knows about his 2007-08 Washington men's golf team is that the Huskies are young and talented with a goal of getting back to the NCAA Championships after missing the tournament last year for the first time in nine seasons.
What he doesn't know is what he is most excited about - how far that talent might take the Huskies this spring.
'There is so much to look forward to but there are so many questions about what we are going to do,' Thurmond said. 'I think we're going to have a good year, but I don't know exactly which blanks are going to be filled in and that's the fun part. There are so many unknowns but I do know that we are 100 percent committed to getting back to the NCAA Championships.'
Last season, after year of ups and downs, the Huskies failed to earn a spot in the NCAA Championships by just three shots, finishing 14th at the NCAA West Regional. Despite shooting a season-best performance versus par at 17-under 271 during the second round, Washington's season came to an end at Regionals for the first time in a long time.
'When I look back, at the time it was devastating and it still is,' Thurmond said. 'We had gone to the NCAA Championships for eight straight years so to miss it by three shots like that was very disappointing.'
The Huskies will do everything possible to make it back to NCAA's and will have the opportunity to host the West Regional at Gold Mountain Golf Complex in Bremerton, Wash., where UW turned in a strong performance at the weather-shortened Husky Invitational in the fall. It won't hurt Washington to have a little added motivation to earn the right to play on one of its home courses and to use that to their best advantage.
Washington's leadership on the links lies in the very capable hands of Zach Bixler, the lone senior on the squad. Bixler, a 2006 PING honorable mention All-American, was a member of the 2005 Husky squad that won a Pac-10 title before turning in a school-record third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Bixler already made NCAA history this season by shooting an 11-under 60 at the Alister Mackenzie Invitational in Northern California, becoming just the sixth collegiate player and second Husky to ever record that 18-hole score. Former UW standout Brock Mackenzie also shot 60 in 2003. For Bixler's efforts, he was named the Co-Pac-10 Golfer of the Month for October/November.
'Bixler's leadership and his play this fall were exceptional,' Thurmond said. 'I couldn't be more proud of the way he's come out in his senior year. Zach has been better than ever, not only on the course but in everything. And I think shooting a 60 really validates his career. We've had many great players who have received a lot of attention and Zach has been a really solid player for four years. Having him set a NCAA record like that really solidifies his place in Husky history.'
In addition to shooting a 60, Bixler led the Huskies with a 72.10 stroke average in the fall and was UW's top finisher in three of the four tournaments.
'I expect Zach to be first-team All-Pac-10 and an All-American this year,' Thurmond said. 'He's playing well and he's mentally stronger than he's ever been. '
Behind Bixler will be juniors Kellen Eakin and John Wise, sophomores Nick Taylor and Darren Wallace, and freshmen Tze Huang Choo and Kevin Spooner. While it is too early for Thurmond to determine how his lineup will shape up, Taylor and Wallace figure to be at the top, finishing with the second and third best scoring averages in the fall - Taylor at 72.36 and Wallace at 73.55.
Taylor, a native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, is especially coming off a good summer following his freshman campaign. Taylor won the 2007 Canadian Men's Amateur Championship after winning the Canadian Junior Boys Championship just the previous season. He also advanced to the quarterfinals of match-play at the 2007 U.S. Amateur and was named to the Royal Canadian Golf Association Men's National Amateur Team in November.
Taylor notched two Top-10 finishes in the fall including tying for seventh at the CordeValle Collegiate.
'Nick is the best player no one really knows about,' Thurmond said. 'He is phenomenal. Nick has a very unique wedge game and he's a very tough competitor. He's coming off a summer where he was one of the best players. I think you'll hear a lot from Nick Taylor this season.'
Wallace is another player who is young, but of whom a lot will be expected by Thurmond. Another Canadian, Wallace is also coming off a solid fall, finishing as one of the team's top-three finishers in three of the four events, including tying with Bixler for high honors at the Alister Mackenzie Invitational. Wallace finished eighth, which included a career-best 54-hole score of 7-under 206. He also shot a career-best 66 in the opening round of the event.
'Darren also made a big step up in the fall,' Thurmond said. 'He's shown the ability to shoot some low scores and he's been working hard in the off-season. His self confidence is pretty high right now, so I think Darren will have a good spring.'
The other two returners are Wise and Eakin. After playing sparingly as a freshman, Wise had a breakout year last season playing in just six tournaments but finishing with the fourth best scoring average on the team (73.17). Bright spots for the Issaquah, Wash., native were winning the 2006 Husky Invitational while playing in just his third varsity event and scoring a hole-in-one on the 15th hole at the Pasatiempo Golf Course in Santa Cruz, Calif., during the Western Intercollegiate.
'John is a guy not many people know about, but those of us who watch him every day in practice and see the kind of competitor he is are anxious to see him break out on the scene. I expect him to be an All-Pac-10 player, he's just that kind of golfer.'
Now an upperclassman as well, Eakin will also be looked upon for some solid contributions. A native of University Place, Wash., Eakin competed in three of the four fall tournaments, placing as the team's fourth-best finisher at the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge.
'It's refreshing to have Kellen on the team because he's so excited to play in every tournament,' Thurmond said. 'We really hope he will work and improve because he is someone we are definitely counting on this year.'
Rounding out the Husky squad are the two freshmen - Choo and Spooner. Both are foreign players who bring impressive junior resumes to Montlake.
Choo has been the top-ranked amateur player in Singapore since 2004, winning the 2005 Singapore Amateur Championship and the 2004 Singapore Junior Championship titles. He was also a two-time Junior Asian Champion in 2003 and 2004, and placed third at the 2004 Junior World Championships.
'Choo comes in very highly touted as an excellent player, he's just had a tough time adjusting,' Thurmond said. 'But as he gets adjusted I think his game will really flourish. He has the potential to be one of the best players in the conference.'
Spooner hails from West Vancouver, British Columbia, and is a member of the Canadian Junior National Team. Also a member of the 2006 Junior Americas Cup Team, Spooner placed fifth at the 2006 Canadian Boys Junior Championship and was the 2005 B.C. Juvenile Boy's Champion. He finished as the runner-up at the 2005 Future Links Western Championship as well.
'Kevin is a guy who really knows how to play golf and he's working very hard,' Thurmond said. 'I think we'll see a very different Kevin Spooner than we saw in the fall. He's naturally a guy who really knows how to score and he lost a little bit of that this fall.'
While this is Clegg's first collegiate coaching post, he brings a wealth of experience to draw from as a member of the 2002 NCAA Champion University of Minnesota team and an all-conference golfer at the University of Utah.
'I think our staff is going to be something that really sets us apart from other programs,' Thurmond said. 'Garrett is really going to help our team. He brings experience from playing professional golf at a high level the last few years and he knows what it takes to be a great player. Garrett played on a national championship team and that is our goal. I want an assistant who understands that and he does.'
Alexander has also been a welcome addition to Thurmond's staff at the volunteer assistant coaching post. Alexander is the Director of Golf at the Gold Mountain Golf Complex and has also served on the Husky Golf Advisory board. Alexander played collegiate golf at Seattle University.
'To have a guy like Scott who is so widely respected and supremely talented, who wants to give up his time to help our program, makes our staff very unique,' Thurmond said.
With a solid coaching staff in place and a strong fall season behind them, the Huskies are ready to tackle their spring campaign starting with the PING Arizona Intercollegiate Jan. 28-29 in Tucson, Ariz.
The Huskies will have their work cut out for them with a slim seven-player roster, but with the hunger and talent these young players carry into the 2008 season it appears as if last year's absence from the NCAA Championships might be a thing of the past.
'We have a very tight-knit group and we're united in our goals and our mission,' Thurmond said. 'We see the challenge ahead and we're fired up to be better than what people might expect.'