Men's Golf Poised For a Strong Fall Season
PULLMAN, Wash. - The Washington State men's golf team is looking to build off its record-setting campaign a season ago, as the Cougars head into their seventh year under the direction of head coach Dustin White.
WSU had one of its best seasons as a team in program history in 2021-22, as the Cougars set the program record for team scoring average at 288.17. Washington State also posted their first team win outside of Pullman since the 2013-14 campaign with a victory at the 2021 Visit Stockton Invitational. Wazzu is poised for another strong campaign this fall, as the Cougs return all but two golfers from last season's record-setting squad, while also bringing in a freshman class that has the potential to make an immediate impact.
"I'm very excited for this upcoming season," expressed White, who heads into his seventh season as head coach at this Alma Mater. "We've seen a lot of good things from the returners and the new guys are playing well. I think having some of that new energy will help make us better. With the group we have, they've come together really nicely. It's going to be an exciting year."
Washington State roster feature one lone senior Pono Yanagi. The Hilo, Hawai'i native comes back to the Palouse after posting a career-best scoring average last season at 72.48, which is the 15th-best scoring average in program history. Yanagi has played in a team-best 63 rounds through 21 career tournaments. Though it will be Yanagi's senior season, he will still have one more season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled portions of his freshman and sophomore seasons.
"This will be Pono's true senior year, and we'll get him for one more after this. He has come a long way and has learned a lot," said White of the senior. "I think he has done a nice job of showing some of our newcomers the ropes. He has grown into a really good player and his game is more complete now."
Despite having one senior on its roster WSU doesn't lack experience, as several juniors return to the fold for the Cougs, led by Jaden Cantafio who posted the fourth-best season scoring average in program history last season at 72.10. Cantafio collected four top-25 finishes a season ago and finished a personal-best 11th at the 2022 Bandon Dunes Championship.
"Jaden has been very consistent from day one," exclaimed White. "He has embraced what it takes to be a student-athlete. He has put in a lot of work in the gym, shows up to practice early and stays lates and he goes out (onto the course) on his own. He is doing things the right way and is seeing a lot of validation in his hard work."
After a solid spring campaign, fellow junior Preston Bebich, earned a bid into this year's U.S. Amateur Championship by finishing third at the U.S. Amateur qualifying event at The Home Course in DuPont, Washington back on July 6. Bebich was the second-consecutive player that Washington State has sent to the US Amateur Championship, following Max Sekulic who played in last season's USGA U.S. Amateur Championship. White sees Bebich taking a similar jump as Sekulic did this season after playing in the U.S. Amateur Championship.
"Preston came to us as a walk-on and has played his way into being one of our top-five mainstays. He has always been smart about his own game, and he has learned a bit about course management and sticking to what works for him. I think he handled playing in the biggest amateur event in the world pretty well this summer. If he continues doing what he is doing, he could have a really nice fall season."
Redshirt junior Tianyu Wu and junior Nate Plaster also bring a heap of experience to the 2022-23 WSU men's golf roster, as the duo has played in a combined 45 rounds through 15 combined tournaments. Junior Drayton Joseph is also set to take the links for the Cougars after sitting out last season after transferring from Florida Atlantic.
Sophomores Franklin Lydra and Peter Jung return after a strong debut season for Wazzu last season. Jung played in eight tournaments during his freshman season and finished the year with an average of 72.92. For his second consecutive time, Jung took the Manoa Cup Men's Champion title this summer, which will qualify the Honolulu, Hawai'i native for the Sony Open Qualifier later this fall.
White said he's thrilled that so many of his players continue to compete and put themselves in new environments during their summer months.
"Having all that (success) in the summer keeps them sharp," White expressed. "They all come back and collectively bring a lot of energy and a lot of competitiveness. I think that's only going to make us better."
The Cougars also welcomed three freshmen this year as Ben Borgida, Daniel Kim, and Sam Renner will be making their WSU debut this season.
"From the few rounds we have played, we've seen a lot of good things from the returners, but the new guys as well," White said. "I think having some of that new energy is obviously going to help make us better."
The Cougars have only lost three players in the last two years and don't expect to have any more departures for an additional two seasons. White said that the possibility of this continuity could foster a very unique level of chemistry within his team.
"I don't want to think too far into the future or what 'could be," White said. "We are going to take things for what they are and be very present, but we could do a lot of really cool things having a group together for an entire two seasons."
The Cougars will play in five tournaments this fall. This season will once again open at the Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Washington, as WSU will open its second-straight season at the Husky Invitational (Sept. 19-20). Washington State then heads to Boulder, Colorado Oct. 3-4 to play in the Mark Simpson Invitational at the Boulder Country Club. The Cougars will be returning to the Mark Simpson Invitational for the first time since winning the tournament during the 2013-14 season.
WSU will then head to the Oregon State Invitational Oct. 10-11 before heading back to the Stockton Country Club Oct. 20-22 to defend its team title at the Visit Stockton Invitational. Wazzu closes out the fall at the Saint Mary's Invitational for the second season in a row, as the Cougars head to Poppy Hills Oct. 31-Nov. 2.
Although WSU will be heading into these familiar territories, Coach White said that it will not change the preparation for each course.
"I think the big piece is going to be managing some of those expectations of 'Hey we might have played well here last year, but it's a new year.' Let's just put in the work, show up, and prepare like we would've if we've never seen this golf course."
For more information on the Washington State men's golf team, follow @WSUCougarMGolf on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.