Arizona Wins West Regional; Earns NCAA Championship Berth
Tap-Ins: Arizona closed the 2005-06 campaign with two team victories, including the NCAA West Regional, five top-five finishes and a berth in the 2006 NCAA Championships ... The national championship appearance was the 24th in school history and the 20th consecutive for the Wildcats ... Not only is Arizona’s NCAA Championship streak the second-longest active streak in the nation, but UA is one of only two schools in the country to qualify for the championships in every season since the regional format was adopted in 1989 ... Other streaks of note that continued in 2005-06 include 28 seasons with a national ranking, 15 seasons with at least one All-American, seven seasons with at least one individual medalist, and four seasons with at least one team win.
The Rankings: The Wildcats closed the 2005-06 season ranked 13th in the final Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll and 14th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index after opening the campaign ranked No. 22 nationally. Individually, junior Henry Liaw finished as the top-ranked Wildcat nationally, checking in at No. 48 on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Classmate Josh Esler came in at No. 113.
The Regular Arizona Lineup:
Golfer Yr. Avg. Top 10/20 Low Rd. Rounds
Henry Liaw Jr. 71.89 4/3 66 44
Brian Prouty Jr. 73.12 2/1 67 34
Ben Fox Fr. 72.38 2/3 67 34
Josh Esler Jr. 72.97 1/4 68 38
Travis Esway So. 73.37 0/0 68 38
Head Coach Rick LaRose . . . completed his 28th 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 eight 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 58 tournaments and produced 47 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 University of Arizona men’s golf team shot a 10-over-par 298 in the final round and finished in 13th place at the 2006 NCAA Championships at the Crosswater Club at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore.
Arizona’s 10-over effort dropped the Wildcats into 13th place at 16-over 1,168 in the field of 30 teams. Oklahoma State claimed the national championship with a nine-under par 1,143 total.
Junior Josh Esler’s two-under 70 was the lone bright spot for the Wildcats, who posted its highest single-round total of the tournament on Saturday. The NCAA Championship appearance was the 20th consecutive for the Wildcats, the second-longest active streak in the country.
Esler’s 70 gave him a 72-hole total of six-over 294, which tied him for 48th place. He was the highest-finishing Wildcat in the event.
Three other Wildcats, Travis Esway, Brian Prouty and Henry Liaw, tied for 50th place at seven-over 295.
Ben Fox finished tied for 66th place at 10-over 298. Fox carded a four-over 76 during the final round.
All-America Accolades: Sophomore Travis Esway was named to the Division I PING All-America team, it was announced June 8 by the Golf Coaches Association of America.
Esway, a native of Granite Bay Calif., was one of 32 student-athletes to receive honorable mention recognition. It is the first time that Esway has garnered All-American accolades, and the second time that he has earned postseason honors. He was an honorable mention all-Pac-10 Conference selection a year ago. Arizona has now had at least one All-American in each of the last 15 seasons. Esway is the 50th player in school history to earn All-America honors.
Wildcats at the U.S. Open: The University of Arizona men’s golf program will be well represented when the United States Golf Association hosts the 2006 United States Open Championship, as five former Wildcats qualified for the 156-man field. Two of those players qualified June 5 in sectional qualifiers, while three others received exemptions.
David Berganio, Jim Furyk, Chris Nallen, Ted Purdy and Rory Sabatini will all compete for the 106th U.S. Open Championship, June 15-18, at Winged Foot Golf Club’s West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y. A total of 11 former Wildcats have played in the last two U.S. Opens.
International Flavor: Ben Fox was selected to play in the USA China Friendship Cup, it was announced June 13 by the Golf Coaches Association of America. Fox, a freshman from Studio City, Calif., was one of 12 student-athletes, eight men and four women, selected to represent the United States in this inaugural event, which will be held July 27-29 at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif.
Kudos for Knauer: Assistant coach John Knauer was named the Jan Strickland Assistant Coach of the Year Award presented by TaylorMade-adidas Golf, it was announced May 26 by the Golf Coaches Association of America. Knauer, who was also a finalist for the honor last year, claimed the honor, which is given to the NCAA Division I, II, III or NAIA assistant coach that has excelled in working with student-athletes both on the course and in the classroom.
Two at Twenty: Arizona competed in the 2006 Division I Men’s Golf NCAA Championships atop a streak of 20 consecutive appearances in the event, which is the second-longest active streak in the nation. Only Oklahoma State’s string of 60 berths (1947-present) tops Arizona’s efforts. No other school in the country has a streak of more than nine. During the streak, the Cats have 10 top-10 finishes, including the 1992 national championship.
Regional Wins: Arizona’s 13-stroke co-regional championship with Florida on May 20 was the program’s sixth NCAA regional crown, which ties the Cats for second most nationally since the format was introduced in 1989. In terms of regional victories, Clemson leads with seven, while Arizona and Oklahoma State have six wins a piece. Arizona is one of seven schools nationally to appear in each of the 17 previous events. Arizona State, Clemson, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, USC and UNLV are the others.
Select Six: According to championship records, Arizona is one of only six programs in NCAA history to register 20 or more consecutive appearances in the Division I Men’s Golf Championships since 1939. For the complete listing, see the box at left.
A Record-Setting Effort: When Arizona and Florida raced to identical 37-under-par 827 totals in winning the West Regional at Omni Tucson National Golf Course, the two schools set or equaled a number of scoring records. The 827 tallies were believed to be the lowest totals ever recorded in NCAA regional play, while the total set a new Florida tournament scoring record in relation to par and equaled the Arizona tournament scoring record. Incidentally, Arizona and Florida combined for 46 birdies and three eagles in the regional’s final round.
In the Red: Arizona’s regional effort in which it posted three consecutive rounds under par in a single tournament marked just the third time this season that the Wildcats were able to accomplish the feat ?- Feb. 22-24 at the John Burns Intercollegiate and April 8-9 at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational were the others. UA played the final 36 holes of the regional at 28-under par, a figure that led the 27-team field. Additionally, Arizona’s final-round 275 at the regional was its second-lowest, final-round tally of the year, topped only by a 272 April 9 at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational (though both were 13-under-par figures). Not surprisingly, both efforts led the Wildcats to first-place finishes.
More Scoring Feats: Arizona’s 2005-06 countable stroke average of 72.315 ranks as the second-lowest single-season scoring average in school history. Only the 2003-04 squad, which placed third at the NCAA Championships, tops the mark with a 71.720 average. Incidentally, Arizona’s 41 team rounds played in 2005-06 were the most for the squad in four seasons (2001-02/41).
Clutch: By the time Josh Esler stepped to the tee on the 17th hole during the final round of the West Regional on May 20, he knew his team trailed Florida by two strokes. So what happened? The junior from Wauconda, Ill., carded birdies on both holes to clinch a tie for the team title. They weren’t your garden-variety birdies either. Esler knocked in an 18-footer on No. 17 and followed with a 12-footer on No. 18. In addition to the pressure that would normally accompany such an effort, Tucson National’s par-4 18th hole played as the most difficult during the regional ?- an average of +0.43 strokes above par for the three-round event.
In the Record Books: Henry Liaw will enter his senior season in 2006-07 ranked third on the Arizona career scoring average list at 71.90 through 123 career rounds played. Liaw also has the chance to join Chris Nallen (2000-04) as the only players in school history to post a scoring average of less than 72.00 in four consecutive seasons. Additionally, Ben Fox’s 72.38 stroke average was the fourth-best by a freshman in Arizona history.
Five Under Par: Led by Josh Esler’s career-best, 10-under 206 total at the West Regional, all five Wildcats posted sub-par tournament totals for just the second time this season (John Burns Intercollegiate). In addition to Esler’s efforts at the regional, May 18-20, Ben Fox’s nine-under 207 was also a career low tournament total.
All-Conference Picks: Three University of Arizona men’s golfers were honored with all-Pacific-10 Conference accolades, in voting released May 5 by the league’s head coaches. Henry Liaw received second-team all-conference honors, while Josh Esler and Ben Fox were honorable mention selections. It marks only the third time in the last 28 years that Arizona has not had at least one first team all-conference selection. Since joining the Pac-10 in 1978-79, Arizona golfers have earned a total of 89 all-league accolades with 44 of those being first-team selections.
Academic Pursuits: Junior Brian Prouty and sophomore Trey Denton were recognized with inclusion on the Pac-10 men’s golf all-Academic team. Prouty was a second team selection, while Denton was an honorable mention pick. The UA duo were among 27 student-athletes within the conference to earn all-academic distinction.
We’ve Seen This Before, But Only Once: Settling on a lineup proved difficult for the Wildcat coaching staff because so many players saw action. Over the course of 13 stroke play events this season a total of 11 different players have made up the UA varsity lineup. In fact, Arizona used the same five-man lineup in back-to-back events just twice this season. Additionally, only junior Henry Liaw has seen action in all 13 varsity appearances.
Lowering Expectations: Arizona’s countable stroke average has hovered above or around 72.00 for the entire season, and settled at 72.32. Over Arizona’s last five events, including the Pac-10 Championships where the low five scores from six players are counted each round, the squad’s countable stroke average dropped to 71.33.
Show Us the Way: Junior Henry Liaw is the most experienced Wildcat with 123 rounds played in his three seasons in Tucson. Liaw led the team in appearances (15), rounds played (44), stroke average (71.89), top-20 finishes (7), low round (66), low tournament total (202/-11) and rounds at par or better (23). Additionally, 39 of his 41 rounds played in team events (95.1 percent) counted towards the team total.
A Stabilizing Factor: Practically a fixture in the lineup since his freshman season, junior Josh Esler enjoyed the best statistical season of his career with a 72.97 stroke average to go with five top-20 finishes (two more than his first two seasons combined) and a career-best nine rounds in the 60s. Furthermore, he ranked second on the team with 17 rounds at par or better this year. Esler was Arizona’s top-finishing player at both the NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships, where his stroke average in those two events was a 71.43.
Go Low: Travis Esway’s second-round 68 at the NCAA Championships was Arizona’s low round of the tournament. It also equaled Esway’s low round at the championship event, joining his first-round 68 in Owings Mills, Md., in 2005. This year, Esway was tied for 16th place after 54 holes at the Championships, but slipped out of contention in the final round.
Making a Charge: Freshman Ben Fox made his fourth appearance with the UA varsity as part of the countable lineup at the NCAA Championships. The Studio City, Calif., product has done well to earn the spot, as he ranked second on the team with a 72.38 stroke average and has been within two strokes of par or better in seven of 10 tournaments this season. In eight spring events (25 rounds), Fox’s stroke average falls to 71.88, a figure that is second on the squad since the calendar changed to 2006. Fox carried a 71.59 stroke average over his last 17 rounds played.
Good Timing: Tucson native Brian Prouty enjoyed a solid statistical season in which he amassed career bests in appearances (11), rounds played (34) top-10 finishes (2), low tournament (205/-8), rounds at par or better (14) and low finish (third). In 34 rounds played this season, he has a respectable 73.12 stroke average, but that mark fell to 71.41 over his last 17 rounds played.
And He’s Not Even Playing This Year: Sophomore Tyler Neal earned a spot in the sectional qualifier for the 2006 United States Open Championship after shooting a one-under 71, May 22, in the local qualifier at Tucson Country Club. He claimed one of six spots in the sectional qualifier, which was held June 5 at Columbine Country Club in Littleton, Colo. Neal tied for 10th place in the sectional qualifier with a 74-71?-145, but did not advance. He sat out the 2005-06 season as a redshirt, but posted a 74.61 stroke average in six events as a freshman. Six of his 18 rounds played in 2004-05 were at par or better, including a low round of 69.
A Solid Finish: Under head coach Rick LaRose, Arizona has 10 top-10 finishes and six top-five efforts since 1987 at the NCAA Championships. LaRose directed the Wildcats to the 1992 national championship.