Pieces In Place For UW Golf To Make A 2012 Run
Jan. 29, 2012
SEATTLE - As the Huskies Men's Golf team prepares to open the 2012 spring season on the Big Island of Hawai'i, Coach Matt Thurmond is optimistic that his team can win any tournament they play and make a deep run at the NCAA Championships.
The optimism comes a year after the Huskies' season came to an unceremonious end at the NCAA Regionals in Tucson, Ariz. It marked just the second time in Thurmond's 10 seasons at Washington that his squad had not advanced to the NCAA Championship.
But the past is the past and the Huskies have moved on from the sting of not making their customary trip to the Championship. In fact, in reflecting back on the season, there is no pain in last seasons results. It's just marks the end of one chapter and the start of a new one.
"We don't talk about it much," said Thurmond about how their 2011 season ended. "In fact I don't even think about it much, and I don't think (the players) do either. We don't really feel much pain about last year; we feel like we did the best we could. There could be years where you don't play real well and don't make it and you feel like you failed miserably. That wasn't how the year ended. We were disappointed but we actually felt like we played really well."
With last year in the rearview mirror, the Huskies are marching forward. And they have a lot of things to be optimistic about as they launch their spring season on Wednesday at the King's Course in Waikoloa for the University of Hawai'i Invite.
Boosting the Huskies' hopes in 2012 is the presence of not one, but two players ranked among the top-10 amateurs in the world. Junior Chris Williams and freshman Cheng-Tsung Pan form a tandem that would make any coach drool. Williams currently is ranked 6th in the World Amateur Rankings, while Pan is three spots back in 9th.
Both standouts played in the 2011 U.S. Open Championship. Williams also represented the United States in the Walker and Palmer Cups and won two-thirds of the Western Amateur Swing this past summer. He also took home the Sahalee Players Championship, just squeezing past his future teammate Pan.
"Last summer was huge for him," said Thurmond about Williams, a 2011 PING All-American and first team Pac-10 selection. "Playing in the U.S .Open, playing in the Walker Cup, winning big amateur events; he took everything to a whole new level. He is a different player and person. That brings even more consistency to his game. He will still be explosive and can shoot 65, but the bad rounds get better too."
Williams got the fall season off to a good start by winning the rain-shortened Kikkor Golf Husky Invitational to earn his UW record-tying fourth medalist honor. He also notched a couple of other top-10 finishes during the fall.
Pan kept right in step with his teammate. Pan followed up an excellent summer of amateur play by making an immediate splash for the Huskies. In just his second collegiate tournament, he took home medalist honors by a resounding score of 15-under in The Prestige at PGA WEST. Pan followed that up by taking third at the U.S. Intercollegiate and tying for 10th at the Gifford Intercollegiate.
"He really doesn't do anything wrong," Thumond said about his freshman from Taiwan. "He just goes about his business and does everything right. He is very independent, he is a guy that you could forget about and not worry about, and he just does his thing. He has blended in great. It is not necessarily the time for him to be the outspoken leader on the team -- he is not -- and we are still getting him to be more vocal. He leads with his maturity and his play, and his focus on what he wants to accomplish."
The Huskies No. 3 man in the lineup Charlie Hughes is another golfer Thurmond can count on to show extreme focus and maturity. Not only is the Canadian a top scholar athlete on campus and a disciplined follower of Cross Fit, but he is a darn good golfer. Hughes earned second team All-Pac-10 honors last season and is poised for a spring breakout on the course after a sluggish fall by his standards.
"I am anxious to see what the spring will bring for him," Thurmond said of his junior from Maple Ridge, B.C. "He is disappointed with his fall performance, but I think Charlie is going to be a huge player for us at the end of the year. He is a big game player, and I think we will see him play a huge role in our success this season."
A pair of sophomores from California round out Thurmond's five-man lineup: Cory McElyea and Trevor Simsby. Each had stellar summers of golf and both have proven in the past that they can contribute to a winning cause.
"This spring I think you will see huge strides from Corey and Trevor. I think Cory has really stepped up his game; he is a bit of our x-factor this spring. Fast forwarding to June, I really think one of the keys to this team is going to be Cory," said Thurmond.
"Trevor is very committed to his goals," continued Thurmond. "He quietly goes about him business. He has this southern California laid back attitude, and that is who he is, but when he gets on the course he has a quiet toughness about him. He knows what he wants to do and he does it. He sneaks up on you a little bit because he is so low key. I am going to let him do his thing this spring. I really think he is going to take that huge jump forward that a lot of sophomores take."
After the Husky "starting" five, Thurmond is still trying to sort out his lineup for the tournaments that require six players. He has four solid candidates that each bring something different to the table. The early clubhouse leader to make an impact is Gerrit Chambers, but that definitely doesn't close the door on seniors Ty Chambers, junior Larry Iverson or freshman Yifan Liu.
"I really want those guys to take a step forward in their game," said Thurmond of the foursome. "Garret showed some real good signs in the fall in qualifying, even at Cordevalle when he played. I think he is really going to start pushing the other guys and be in the lineup. I hope he will do that and keep pushing, he made big strides in the fall and I think he is going to be big for us in the spring.
"Larry and Ty, those guys have been in the program for a while now, they know what it takes. I think they can play their best this spring and push everyone else as much as possible and be there at the end. Yifan brings great energy and personality to our program and it has worked out really well to have him join the team."
The Huskies have time to sort out their lineup during the season and will once again play a competitive schedule. After opening in Hawai'i, they play in a couple of California tournaments: the San Diego Collegiate and the Del Walker Match Play Championship in Long Beach. The Dawgs then make a return to Bandon Dunes in Oregon -- site of their lone victory in 2011. Washington wraps up their regular season at a couple of tournaments hosted by Pac-12 foes: the U.S. Collegiate at Stanford Golf Club and the ASU Thunderbird at Karsten GC.
At each of the regular season tournaments the Huskies will battle some of the nation's elite colleges. Arguably the toughest competition will come from squads within Washington's own conference. The Huskies are ranked 10th in the Golfweek.com/Sagarin ratings and among six teams from the Pac-12 in the top 12. Oregon will start spring ranked second, UCLA 4th, Stanford 7th, USC 11th and California 12th.
"It is another huge year for Pac-12," said Thurmond of the conference's depth. " I think in 2010, when we won, it was the best conference that has ever been. There were so many elite teams that year.
"Last year it was down a little bit ... still good, but down. And this year, it is a whole new ballgame. There are five or six really good teams. It will be harder than ever to win the Pac-12 championship."
With good teams come good players. The likes of UCLA's Patrick Cantlay, Stanford's Patrick Rodgers and Andrew Yun, and Oregon's dynamic seniors Eugene Wong and Daniel Miernicki make the Pac-12 home to some of the world's best amateurs. And of course you can't sleep on the Huskies' pair, Williams and Pan.
Even though his Huskies are playing in such a stellar conference, Thurmond's goals in his 11th season remain as high as ever. With the tradition of success he has built, the expectations are still to compete and hopefully win an NCAA title.
"I think there is a lot of talent here, our team is really together and committed to our goals," said Thurmond. "We could really go far. I think we can compete with any team and we have the potential to win anything we play in this year."