Cats Make 19th Straight NCAA Championship Appearance
On the Tee: Arizona heads to the 2005 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships, June 1-4, in Owings Mills, Md., for the 19th consecutive season ... Arizona is one of two schools nationally to qualify for the national championships in every season since the regional since the format was adopted in 1989 ... In 22 previous appearances, the Wildcats have one national championship (1992) and six top-five finishes. UA has seven top-five finishes in 12 stroke play events this year, including a win at the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate in October.
The Rankings: The Wildcats opened the 2004-05 season ranked as high as fourth nationally and in the top 20 in all three major college golf polls, and are currently ranked 18th in the Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll and 22nd in the Golf World Coaches Poll. After eight team events this spring, UA checks in at No. 23 on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Individually, sophomore Henry Liaw is ranked 45th nationally on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the highest-ranked Wildcat.
A Look at the 2005 NCAA Championships: Loyola College hosts the 108th NCAA Men’s Golf Championships, June 1-4. Seventy-two holes of stroke play will be contested over four days at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., a par-70, 7,124-yard layout. UA starts from hole No. 1 beginning at 7:45 a.m. EDT on the first day of action. Thirty teams will compete: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Augusta State, Brigham Young, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, Purdue, San Diego State, SMU, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulsa, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Wake Forest and Washington. Six individuals also round out the 156-man field: Rhys Davies, East Tennessee State; Judd Easterling, Wichita State; Gregg LaVoie, Oregon; Korey Mahoney, Eastern Michigan; Michael Putnam, Pepperdine; and Martin Ureta, North Carolina. Live scoring will be available at www.golfstat.com.
The Probable Arizona Lineup:
Golfer Yr. Avg. Top 10/20 Low Rd. Events
Nathan Lashley Sr. 71.61 5/1 66 12
Henry Liaw So. 71.61 5/2 66 13
Josh Esler So. 73.57 1/1 67 13
Travis Esway Fr. 72.85 1/3 66 12
Brian Prouty So. 73.56 0/3 67 6
Head Coach Rick LaRose . . . is in his 27th season at the helm of the Arizona golf program, and in that span has established the Wildcats as one of the nation’s elite programs. The only college coach to win both a men’s (1992) and women’s (1996) NCAA Championship, LaRose’s teams have won seven NCAA Regionals, six Pac-10 crowns and three Rolex Match Play titles. In NCAA Championship play, he also has six third-place finishes, a fifth-place and two sixth-place efforts to his credit. Since 1978, his men’s teams have won 56 tournaments and produced 44 All-Americans. LaRose, who has coached two U.S. Amateur champions, was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame on Jan. 22, 2003. He is assisted by John Knauer.
Last Time Out: The Wildcats tallied a final-round, four-over-par 284 and jumped into a tie for eighth place at the NCAA West Regional, May 19-21, in Palo Alto, Calif., and qualified for its 19th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance.
After a horrid second round, which saw the team post a 16-over-par total and put its qualifying efforts in jeopardy, Arizona rebounded nicely by posting the four-over 284, and qualified safely with a three-day total of 863 (+23).
Once again, senior Nathan Lashley set the pace for the Wildcats, as he finished in a tie for second place after a final-round 69 (-1). His three-under 207 total was three strokes off the pace set by Stanford’s Rob Grube, who fired a final-round 65 (-5) to claim individual medalist honors at six-under 204.
UA sophomore Henry Liaw finished in a tie for 22nd place with a four-over 214 total, while fellow classmate Josh Esler and freshman Travis Esway finished tied for 56th place at nine-over 219 and tied for 80th place at nine-over 219, respectively.
Last Year at the NCAA Championships: For the third day in a row, Arizona got strong efforts from its entire lineup as the Wildcats finished in third place at the 2004 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships in Hot Springs, Va.
Arizona carded a final-round 12-over 292 total en route to a four-round tally of 1148 (+28), which placed the team third in the field of 15 following the third-round cut. After starting the tournament in a tie for 18th place after the opening 18 holes, the Wildcats moved up the leaderboard each day over the final 54 holes as it collected the school’s fifth top-three finish at the NCAA Championships, including the third such placing in the last five seasons.
Senior Chris Nallen capped a brilliant collegiate career with a tie for second place with Wake Forest’s Bill Haas. The Hackettstown, N.J., native carded an even-par 70 and finished the championships with a seven-under 273 total. It was his ninth top-10 finish in 13 stroke-play events this season. The placing and aggregate total were Nallen’s best in four career NCAA Championship appearances. He is the seventh Arizona golfer to finish as the NCAA Championship runner-up.
Freshman Mark Lamb continued his run of solid play at the national championship, as the Haddington, Scotland, native fired a three-over 73 and finished tied for 24th place at 287 (+7). Fellow freshman Henry Liaw, the reigning Pac-10 individual medalist, carded a four-over 74 and finished in a tie for 44th place at 294 (+14).
Arizona Individuals Team Finish
T2. Chris Nallen 69-67-67-70=273 (-7) 1. California 1134
T24. Mark Lamb 72-69-73-73=287 (+7) 2. UCLA 1140
T44. Henry Liaw 78-70-72-74=294 (+14) 3. ARIZONA 1148
T68. Nick Juszczak 80-75-71-75=301 (+21) 4. Texas 1149
77. Josh Esler 73-81-76-77=307 (+27) 5. Georgia Tech 1151
Two to Tango: It took a bit of final-round scrambling at the West Regional, but Arizona enters the 2005 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships riding a streak of 19 consecutive appearances in the national championship event, which is the second-longest active streak in the nation. Only Oklahoma State’s string of 59 consecutive appearances (1947-2005) tops Arizona’s efforts. Arizona averages a 10th-place finish at the NCAA Championships during the streak.
Conference Call: Arizona is one of six Pacific-10 Conference teams (Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington) to be included among the 30-team field. Those six bids equal the Southeastern Conference (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee) for the most at this year’s national championship.
Individually Speaking: Senior Nathan Lashley enters his final collegiate event having posted runner-up finishes in three of his last four starts. If he is able to do one better and earn his first collegiate victory, Lashley would become the first UA men’s golfer to earn individual medalist honors at the NCAA Championships. Wildcat golfers have finished as the runner up seven times: Drue Johnson, 1967 and 1969; Robert Gamez, 1989; Harry Rudolph, 1992; Ted Purdy, 1995; Rory Sabbatini, 1996; and Chris Nallen, 2004.
Challenges Await: There is no question that the Caves Valley Golf Club will test the mettle of this year’s filed ?- perhaps none more than Arizona. Earlier this season, Arizona tied for 12th place at The Preview by Ping & Golfweek with a three-round total of 884 (+44), which was its worst score in relation to par all season. Of the combined 15 rounds logged by the UA lineup during the event, only one was under par: a one-under 69 by Henry Liaw in the first round. No Wildcat to make a return trip for these championships finished The Preview at less than 10 strokes over par.
At Baggage Claim: One thing that Arizona did not bring with it was extensive NCAA Championship experience, as the five-man lineup has a combined eight rounds of national championship experience. Only sophomores Henry Liaw and Josh Esler, who finished tied for 44th and in 77th places, respectively, last season, have any such experience. The other three players in the lineup, senior Nathan Lashley, sophomore Brian Prouty, and freshman Travis Esway, are making their championship debuts in 2005.
By the Slimmest of Margins: Arizona managed to tie for eighth place at the NCAA West Regional and keep itself out of the 10th-place playoff by a single stroke. That winning margin, if you will, was provided by a Henry Liaw nine-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, which was Arizona’s 18th hole of the day. After playing their first nine holes on May 21 at a cumulative four-over par, the Cats buckled down and played their back nine at even par, finalized by Liaw’s heroics. “I kind of knew the situation,” Liaw said of that clinching putt, “so it was the longest nine-footer I’ve ever faced. When it caught the right edge and fell in, I just gave it a big fist pump.”
International Experience: Wildcat sophomore Henry Liaw will be among the 12-person team scheduled to represent the United States in the 2005 Fuji Xerox USA vs. Japan Collegiate Golf Championship, July 13-15, at the Stanford University Golf Course in Palo Alto, Calif. Liaw is the ninth Arizona men’s golfer to represent the U.S. in the series a total of 10 times, and the third in the last five years. Ricky Barnes (2000-01) and Chris Nallen (2001-02) each played in the international competition following their sophomore seasons as well.
A Stretch: Over the last five years, the Arizona golf team has logged a total of 7,607 miles traveling to the NCAA Championships in Opelika, Ala. (2000), Durham, N.C. (2001), Columbus, Ohio (2002), Stillwater, Okla. (2003), and Hot Springs, Va. (2004). Interestingly, the Wildcats have seemingly played better when having to cover the most miles, as the club has third-place finishes at the national championship meet in 2000, 2001 and 2004, when the locations were 1,488, 1,844 and 1,796 miles, respectively, from Tucson. The Wildcats’ worst finish in that span was a 17th-place effort in Stillwater, the venue closest to home (836 miles) in the last five years. Perhaps good fortune will shine on the Wildcats this season, as the Caves Valley Golf Club is 1,966 miles from Tucson ?- the farthest the team has traveled to the NCAA Championships since 1961.
All-Conference Picks: Four University of Arizona men’s golfers were honored with all-Pacific-10 Conference accolades, in voting released by the league’s head coaches. Henry Liaw (first team) and Nathan Lashley (second team) received all-conference honors, while Travis Esway and Kipp Riehle were honorable mention selections. It marks the fifth consecutive season, and the 25th time in the last 27 years, that Arizona has had at least one first team all-conference selection. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978-79, Arizona golfers have earned a total of 86 all-league accolades with 44 of those being first-team selections.
Many Options: With just one senior in the regular lineup and an 18-man roster that includes 15 freshmen or sophomores, it’s no surprise that the UA lineup is subject to change. No fewer than 15 players have seen action this season, including six junior varsity events, and there have been nine different players to see action for the Wildcat varsity (not counting appearances as individuals). Henry Liaw is the only Wildcat on the roster to see action in all 13 varsity events as a member of the countable lineup.
One More Chance to Improve: After getting off to a rough start in the fall, the UA golfers have been consistently scoring lower of late. In four fall stroke play events, the Wildcats averaged 294.45 strokes per round as a team and finished seventh or worse in three of those tournaments. Conversely, the team posts a 286.52 stroke average in seven events this spring (adjusted for the play six, count five Pac-10 Championships) and have finished in the top five in six of those eight starts. All told, Arizona’s countable stroke average through 25 rounds this spring is 71.63. To further the point, UA golfers tallied just 10 individual rounds at par or better in the fall compared with 55 this spring.
Kiddie Corps: Featuring a lineup made primarily of a senior, three sophomores and a freshman through most of the season, to say that Arizona is a young team may be an understatement. To date, freshmen and sophomores have played 130 of 184 (70.7 percent) competitive rounds for the Wildcats this season. Over the past two seasons, underclassmen have played 249 of the 389 rounds (64.0 percent) for Arizona. Learning on the fly hasn’t held the program back, as the Cats have five tournament wins since the start of the 2003-04 campaign, including the 2004 Pac-10 Men’s golf championship and top-three placings at the 2004 NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships.
Perhaps It’s Really Just Based on Talent: As mentioned earlier, Arizona enters the 2005 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships with a lineup anchored by four underclassmen and only two players with previous championship experience. A youthful lineup hasn’t hurt Arizona at the national championship. Dating back to the 2000 Championships, 56 percent (14 of 25 players) of the Wildcat lineup has been made up of either freshmen or sophomores. In that span, underclassmen have been the UA majority in every year but one, 2004. Ironically, that lineup, consisting of four seniors and a junior, posted Arizona’s worst finish since 2000 (17th place). With four underclassmen scheduled to perform in 2005, that participation percentage rises to 60 percent.
One Solid Sophomore: Sophomore Henry Liaw leads the team, or is tied for the lead, in nearly every statistical category of note: stroke average (71.61), top-10 finishes (five) and rounds at par or better (18). His stroke average is 0.29 points lower than during his All-American effort (71.90) last year. The product of Rowland Heights, Calif., has been the Wildcats’ top finisher in six of 12 stroke play events in 2004-05, while 33 of his 36 rounds played (91.7 percent) have counted towards the team total. Liaw also leads the team with 11 rounds in the 60s. He’s also something of a bellwether. In the five events where Liaw has opened with a score in the 60s, Arizona’s team stroke average is 285.93 and the team’s average finish is 4.4. In the seven events where he didn’t break 70, the team’s stroke average is 290.91 and the average finish is 6.1. Entering play at the NCAA Championships, Liaw’s 71.76 career stroke average ranks third on Arizona’s career chart, trailing only Chris Nallen (71.19, 2000-04) and Ricky Barnes (71.48, 1999-2003).
The Kid is Hot: Nathan Lashley has certainly saved his best golf for his senior season, as his 71.61 stroke average is 2.60 strokes lower than his career average entering the season. In eight spring events, his stroke average falls to 71.00, including four top-five finishes. Ten of his 13 career rounds in the 60s have come this season, and his tally of six top-20 finishes this season easily surpassed his career total (4) entering the year. Lashley was stellar at the Pac-10 Championships (April 25-27), carding rounds of 68, 72, 68 and 69 to post a seven-under 277 total. The 277 tally was the sixth-best 72-hole aggregate total in school history and his best finish at the Pac-10 meet. It was also his second-lowest tournament total in relation to par in his four-year career. He was almost as good at the NCAA Regionals, finishing in a tie for second place with a three-under 207.
Moving Up: Nathan Lashley’s stellar play this spring certainly has dropped his stroke average to a career low, as mentioned above, but it’s also done wonders for his collegiate rankings. He started the spring season ranked 109th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and just five weeks ago (April 18) Lashley stood 88th nationally. In the two tournaments since (Pac-10 Championships/NCAA West Regional), the Scottsbluff, Neb., product has moved into 55th place (as of May 22) with a rating of 71.15.
No Opening-Round Jitters: Count sophomore Josh Esler as a first round type of guy. While his season-long stroke average is a respectable 73.57 in a team-leading 37 rounds played, he’s shown a tendency to play his best golf during the first 18 holes. Through 12 stroke play events, his first-round stroke average is 73.30, a figure that is 3.45 strokes lower than his average in all other rounds combined. Esler has posted or equaled his tournament-low score six times in the first round of those 12 events played. Going back a year, his best round carded at the 2004 NCAA Championships was a three-over 73 in the first round.
Steady Under Pressure: It didn’t take long for freshman Travis Esway to make his presence felt as he earned individual medalist honors at the Ron Moore Invitational, Sept. 27-28, in his first collegiate event. Esway carded a 12-under 204 (a team low in 2004-05) total and became the first of two UA individual medalists this year. He has competed in 12 tournaments in 2004-05, posted a 72.85 stroke average and collected four top-20 finishes. One of those top-20 finishes came at the Pac-10 Championships where he finished in a tie for 19th place with a three-over 287 total that included a first-round 68.
Quite a Debut: It’s not often that a player gets to make his varsity debut at the NCAA Championships, but that is exactly what will happen to sophomore Brian Prouty. In six appearances this season either as an individual or with the UA junior varsity, Prouty posted a 73.56 stroke average and collected three top-20 finishes. He put 10 career collegiate events under his belt before finally cracking the varsity lineup.
Keeping Busy: While he hasn’t played in a college golf event since April 11-12, Brian Prouty has managed to keep himself busy in a few noteworthy events. He finished second at the U.S. Open Local Qualifier, May 17, with a four-under 68 at Tucson Country Club. Prouty also captured the Tucson City Amateur Championship, May 1, with a 71-67-71-64=273 (-11) total to win by two strokes.