Arizona Looking to Defend Title at Pac-10 Championships
On the Tee: Arizona heads to the 2005 Pac-10 Championships, April 25-27, in Walla Walla, Wash., as the defending champion after last year’s come-from-behind five-stroke victory ... Since joining the league in 1978-79, Arizona has won the Pac-10 title three times (1987/1991/2004) and finished second seven times ... The Wildcats have top-five finishes in five of six tournaments this spring to go along with a tournament win in fall competition.
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 21st in the Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll and 22nd in the Golf World Coaches Poll. After five team events this spring, UA checks in at No. 24 on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Individually, sophomore Henry Liaw is ranked 49th nationally on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the highest-ranked Wildcat.
A Look at the 2005 Pac-10 Championships: Held annually since 1960, the Pac-10 Men’s Golf Championships will be held Monday-Wednesday, April 25-27, (practice round April 24) at Walla Walla Country Club, a par 71, 6,606-yard layout located in Walla Walla, Wash. Seventy-two holes will be played over the three days (36 Monday/18 Tuesday and Wednesday) with twosomes scheduled off the first and 10th tees at 7 a.m. PDT Monday. Ten teams are scheduled to compete: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and host Washington State. Four of those clubs are currently ranked in the Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll. Arguably the toughest test in all of college golf, each team will be made up of six players with the low five scores counting towards the team total in each round. Arizona won this event last season with a 10-over 1,450 total. Arizona’s Henry Liaw captured individual medalist honors with a 69-70-72-68=279 (-9) tally.
The Probable Arizona Lineup:
Golfer Yr. Avg. Top 10/20 Low Rd. Events
Henry Liaw So. 71.69 5/1 66 11
Nathan Lashley Sr. 72.27 3/1 66 10
Josh Esler So. 73.47 1/1 67 11
Travis Esway Fr. 72.81 1/2 66 10
Kipp Riehle Sr. 73.87 1/1 68 5
Trey Denton Fr. 73.57 3/1 68 7
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: Arizona shot a final-round 13-over-par tally to finish in a tie for seventh place at the U.S. Intercollegiate in Palo Alto, Calif., April 16-17.
Arizona tallied a 13-over 293 en route to a 54-hole total of 878 (+38), which put the team in a tie for seventh place with Oregon. The Wildcats, who managed just two rounds at par or better in the tournament, did not post a round at par or better in the final round. The effort put the Cats 32 strokes behind tournament-winner USC.
Sophomore Josh Esler led the Wildcats throughout the tournament, as the Wauconda, Ill., native tallied an eight-over 218 total and finished in a tie for 23rd place. Freshman Travis Esway finished tied for 39th place at 13-over 223. Arizona State’s Pat Moore claimed individual medalist honors with a two-under 208 tally.
Last Year at the Pac-10 Championships: Led by the stellar play of freshman Henry Liaw, the University of Arizona men’s golf team posted a 14-stroke turnaround over the final 18 holes to win the 2004 Pacific-10 Conference Men’s Golf Championship April 28 at The Gallery at Dove Mountain.
Liaw, a product of Rowland Heights, Calif., carded a four-under 68, the low round of the day, to lead the host Wildcats to a final-round 365 (+5) and a four-round total of 1,450 (+10). Arizona erased a nine-stroke deficit entering the final round and defeated runner-up Arizona State (1,455/+15) by five strokes. UCLA (1,470), Washington (1,476) and USC (1,479) rounded out the top five places.
The victory was the fourth for the Wildcats in 2003-04 and marked the program’s third Pac-10 Championship since joining the league in 1978-79 (1987, 1991). The five-stroke win was the closest at the Pac-10 meet since 2001 and just the third margin of victory of five strokes or less in the last 11 years.
Liaw’s efforts not only spurred the team on to victory, but enabled him to capture individual medalist honors. His final-round 68, one of just two under-par rounds on the day, gave him a four-round total of 279 (-9) and a four-stroke victory over Arizona State’s Alejandro Canizares and Chez Reavie.
The Gallery certainly proved itself championship caliber as well, yielding just seven totals of par or better in the field of 60 for the tournament. Individually, there were only nine sub-par scores tallied over the final two rounds of this championship.
Arizona Individuals Team Finish
1. Henry Liaw 69-70-72-68=279 (-9) 1. ARIZONA 1450
T5. Chris Nallen 70-69-75-72=286 (-2) 2. Arizona State 1455
8. Josh Esler 70-70-72-77=289 (+1) 3. UCLA 1470
20. Nathan Lashley 77-78-70-74=299 (+11) 4. Washington 1476
T28. Mark Lamb 76-76-76-74=302 (+14) 5. USC 1479
T33. Nathan Tyler 72-78-76-78=304 (+16)
Defending the Crown: The Wildcats enter the 46th edition of the Pac-10 Championships as the defending champion for the third time in school history. Arizona has fared relatively well in the role, but never successfully defended its title. After winning its first conference championship in 1987, Arizona finished as the runner-up to Washington by six strokes with a 1,110 tally in 1988. After claiming its second league championship in 1991, Arizona finished fourth in 1992 with a 1,474 total, 35 strokes behind tournament-winner Stanford. Incidentally, Arizona’s 1992 squad went on to win the NCAA championship later that season.
A State of Flux: 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). Sophomore Henry Liaw is the only Wildcat on the roster to see action in all 11 varsity events as a member of the countable lineup.
Getting Better: 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 286.61 stroke average in six events this spring and have finished in the top five in five of those six starts. To further the point, UA golfers tallied just 10 rounds at par or better in the fall compared with 45 this spring.
Youth is Served: Featuring a lineup made primarily of a senior, three sophomores and a freshman, to say that Arizona is a young team may be an understatement. To date, freshmen and sophomores have played 105 of 145 (72.4 percent) competitive rounds for the Wildcats this season. Over the past two seasons, underclassmen have played 224 of the 350 rounds (64 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.
All or Nothing: A quick look at the statistics shows that it’s been an up-and-down season for the Cats. UA has carded tournament lows of 26- and 21-under par, which has been offset by tallies of 44- and 38-over par. The scoring has been more consistent this spring, as UA has posted tournament totals at par or better three times. All told, 10 of Arizona’s 18 rounds played this spring have been at par or better. UA was under par in only two of 11 rounds last fall.
Off to a Good Start: Through 10 stroke play events, Arizona’s first round scoring average is 290.00. That first round number is a key one as the team has posted four under-par rounds to open a tournament and finished under par in three of those events. Additionally, Arizona has one opening round at even par (PING-Arizona Intercollegiate) and went on to finish that event even as well. The Wildcats’ scoring average falls to 288.30 in the second round of play.
Mr. Everything: Sophomore Henry Liaw leads the team in nearly every statistical category of note: stroke average (71.69) for players with more than six rounds played, top-10 finishes (five) and rounds at par or better (16). His stroke average is 0.21 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 10 stroke play events in 2004-05, while 27 of his 29 rounds played (93.1 percent) have counted towards the team total. Liaw also leads the team with nine rounds in the 60s. He’s also something of a bellwether. In the four events where Liaw has opened with a score in the 60s, Arizona’s team stroke average is 283.75 and the team’s average finish is 2.5. In the six events where he didn’t break 70, the team’s stroke average is 293.71 and the average finish is 7.3.
Solid in the Second Slot: Nathan Lashley has certainly saved his best golf for his senior season. His is easily playing the best golf of his career, as his 71.96 stroke average is 2.25 strokes lower than his career average entering the season. In six spring events his stroke average falls to 71.72, including two top-five and one top-20 finish. Five of his eight career rounds in the 60s have come this season, and his tally of four top-20 finishes this season equals his career total entering the year.
Don’t Overlook Him: His efforts could be described as yeoman-like, but don’t look past the contributions of sophomore Josh Esler. He currently ranks fifth on the team with a 73.47 stroke average, which is a 0.71-stroke improvement over last year, and leads UA with 30 rounds played. The Wauconda, Ill., native might have been the key to winning last year’s Pac-10 title, as he finished in eighth place with a 70-70-72-77=289 (+1) total.
Proven to be a Winner: 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 winners this season. Along the way, Esway has competed in 10 tournaments, posted a 72.81 stroke average and collected three top-20 finishes.
Heating Up: Kipp Riehle has rebounded over his last three appearances to make himself a factor in the UA lineup. Riehle averaged 77.50 strokes per round over his first six played this season, but has averaged 71.44 over his last three tournaments, including a win at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational on April 9. At one point this spring, Riehle carded four consecutive rounds in the 60s, which is the longest streak by a UA golfer in 2004-05.
Stepping In: Freshman Trey Denton has made the most of his seven appearances this year, posting three top-10 and one top-20 finishes. His three top-10 efforts tie him for second on the team (Lashley), while no other Wildcat on the roster has a greater percentage of top-20 finishes. In four spring appearances, Denton has a 72.75 stroke average.