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Men's Golf Enters Season With High Hopes

Sep 15, 2014

SEATTLE – Washington men’s golf will begin the 2014-15 season next week when they host the Husky Invitational. Expectations are once again high for the Dawgs, who enter the fall ranked No. 8 in the Golf Coaches Association of America preseason poll.

A top-10 ranking is nothing new for the Huskies, who have become one of the perennial powers in college golf under head coach Matt Thurmond, now in his 14th season. The Dawgs have seven top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, although last year finished a disappointing 15th after entering the tournament looking to compete for the title.

This season will be no different as the Dawgs look to get back to the NCAA’s and compete for a championship, although that is not necessarily the focus in September.

“I am not really a goals guy,” said Thurmond. “I think we can win championships and we work for that every day. Each guy will have things he is working towards. We start every year trying to win the Pac-12 Championship and then trying to win a national championship. As you really break that down, it’s about each guy getting better, learning and continually improving. That’s what our focus is, each guy getting better and when you add all that up, it makes for a really good team.”

This season, the optimism surrounds three returning standouts, along with improved depth that should complete an extremely competitive squad. The three most proven Huskies are Cheng-Tsung Pan, Jonathan Sanders and Corey Pereira.

Pan, a former No. 1 amateur on the world, is fresh off a summer that included competing at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Sanders was the breakthrough player last season, winning two collegiate tournaments, including the NCAA Raleigh Regional. Pereira, as a freshman, was the Dawgs top player at the NCAA Championships and won two big amateur tournaments over the summer, the Pacific Coast Amateur and the California State Fair Amateur.

“If you look at Pan’s career, last year was his worst of the three,” said Thurmond. “I think this year it will look a lot more like the first two years. I am really confident that we have a guy that can be one of the very best in the country. Corey is coming off a great summer and I think he could also make that jump into the upper tier of players. Jonathan did that last year. He went from being a solid college player to an All-America level college player. I am anxious to see if he can make another jump. He is going to be great even if he doesn’t, but there is potential there with the way he works and the goals he sets.”

Those three are joined by a trio of returners each capable of making a similar leap that Sanders enjoyed last season. Junior Chris Babcock is the most experienced of the group, having played as part of the varsity five at the Pac-12’s, Regionals and NCAA’s last season. Tyler Salsbury, the team’s best student, has a renewed focus on golf after working hard to get into the business school last year. He had a great summer that included winning the Washington State Amateur. Finally, Kevin Kwon struggled at times as a freshman, but is a highly talented player that should be ready to contribute.

“We have some veterans returning that I have a lot of hope for," said Thurmond. "Chris played in our varsity lineup and had some big rounds and tournaments for us. He didn’t play his best at the end of the year, so he gets a little forgotten, but he is an awesome competitor and will be a factor. Tyler has been quiet his first two years here, but has a different focus and energy this year. He could be the breakout player of the year for us. For Kevin, you always hope a freshman comes in and takes off, but he had a tough year and he’ll admit that. This is guy that has played well in big events throughout his career, though, so he can be a difference maker for us this year.”

Rounding out the Husky squad a deep recruiting class with a local flavor. Four incoming freshman, Frank Garber, Greg Gildea, Jordan Lu and Spencer Weiss come to Montlake, but did not travel far to get there. Garber, Gildea and Weiss are all Western Washington products, while Lu comes from just over the border in Vancouver, B.C.

“I really don’t like to talk about the freshmen as much because I want them to write their own story. It’s a good class that has had a lot of success, but I want them to start with a blank slate here. I am confident that the freshmen will be a factor in our program. I want them to come in and not have the weight of the team on their shoulders, but it’s hard to imagine they won’t help us on some level this season.”

Washington opens the season on September 22 and 23 at the Husky Invitational at Golf Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Wash. The Dawgs have won the tournament three years in a row, although will be playing without Pan who is the two-time defending individual champion. Pan will be in Korea at the Asian Games, an all-sports competition where he will compete for Taiwan.

“It’s nice to start close to home on familiar turf,” said Thurmond. “It’s a good way to get the community engaged in the season. All of the parents get to come and see the guys play and typically we have done well, so it’s an early season confidence booster.”

“The cool thing about the start of the season and what makes me nervous is you don’t know what is going to happen. You think Pan is going to be good, but you never know. You think Corey is going to continue to get better, but you never know. We take a lot of pride in improving, learning and getting better all of the time, so I am confident all of those guys are going to get better.”

After the Husky Invitational, the Dawgs embark on a schedule that is both highly competitive and exotic. It includes several of the top local tournaments, including the Redhawk Invitational that will be played at Chambers just weeks before it is the site of the U.S. Open. In addition, the Dawgs will travel to Mexico, Hawa'i, California, Texas and Georgia.

“We always have one of the top-10 schedule from a rankings standpoint,” said Thurmond. “We aren’t just picking the best resorts or beaches.”

The other addition to the Washington team this year is the new practice facility at Washington National, dubbed ‘The Playground’. The facility is a one-of-a-kind practice location that will allow the Dawgs to work on a variety of shots from one place.

“We have been working on it for more than a year, but really in mind and concept it’s been a decade,” said Thurmond. “The guys are anxious to get out there. I think we will be able to improve in new and better ways. That is super exciting for our program.”

For Washington men’s golf it is always about improving, having fun and competing for a championship. Perhaps this is the season the Dawgs can climb to the top of college golf.