On the Tee: Arizona opens play at the 2006 NCAA Championships, May 31-June 3, in Sunriver, Ore., and appears in the event for the 20th consecutive season ... Arizona is one of only two schools nationally to qualify for the national championships in every season since the regional format was adopted in 1989 ... In 23 previous NCAA Championship appearances, the Wildcats have one national championship (1992) and six top-five finishes.
The Rankings: The Wildcats opened the 2005-06 season ranked 22nd nationally and are currently ranked 16th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index and 25th in the current (April 27) Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll. Individually, junior Henry Liaw is the top-ranked Wildcat nationally, checking in at No. 49 on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Classmate Josh Esler comes next at No. 121.
A Look at the 2006 NCAA NCAA Championships: The University of Portland hosts 72 holes of stroke play over four days at the Crosswater Club at Sunriver Resort, a par 72, 7,630-yard layout. Tee times begin at 7:30 a.m. PDT off the first and 10th tees. Thirty teams, including 19 teams ranked in the current Bridgestone/GCAA Coaches Poll, and six individuals fill out the 156-man field. Here is the field listed by seed: 1. Oklahoma State, 2. Arizona, 3. Georgia, 4. Florida, 5. Arizona State, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Texas Tech, 8. Georgia Tech, 9. North Carolina, 10. Brigham Young, 11. UCLA, 12. Clemson, 13. East Tennessee State, 14. Duke, 15. UNLV, 16. Wake Forest, 17. Northwestern, 18. Washington, 19. Coastal Carolina, 20. Lamar, 21. North Carolina State, 22. Charlotte, 23. Minnesota, 24. Oklahoma, 25. Loyola Marymount, 26. Auburn, 27. South Carolina, 28. Pepperdine, 29. Kentucky and 30. Nevada. Individuals include Brendon Wood, USC; Robert Streb, Kansas State; Dustin Pimm, Utah; Scott Stallings, Tennessee Tech; Randy Lowry, Texas; and James Love, Denver. Live tournament scoring will be available at www.golfstat.com.
The Probable Arizona Lineup:
Golfer Yr. Avg. Top 10/20 Low Rd. Events
Henry Liaw Jr. 71.70 4/3 66 14
Brian Prouty Jr. 73.03 2/1 67 10
Ben Fox Fr. 72.10 2/3 67 10
Josh Esler Jr. 72.91 1/4 68 12
Travis Esway So. 73.32 0/0 69 12
Head Coach Rick LaRose . . . is in 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 46 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 and Florida engaged in a scoring duel Saturday that left the rest of the field in the dust as the teams shared the team championship at the 2006 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf West Regional at Omni Tucson National Golf Course.
The host Wildcats and Gators combined for 46 birdies and three eagles en route to topping the field by 13 strokes. After 54 holes of action, Arizona and Florida carded identical 37-under-par totals of 827. Washington, which tallied the low round of the day at 271 (-17), and Arizona State tied for third place at 24-under 840. North Carolina State finished in fifth place at 845.
The regional win was the sixth NCAA regional crown for Arizona, which is the second most in the country, and the third for Florida. Additionally, the 37-under-par tally matched an Arizona school record for low tournament total in relation to par, while setting a new Florida scoring record.
On a day in which all five players for both teams finished under par on the day, Arizona and Florida separated themselves from the rest of the 27-team field early. Arizona, which held a three-stroke lead entering the final round, and Florida were a combined 17-under after nine holes.
The top-seeded Gators held a two-stroke lead heading into the last two holes before the Wildcats’ Josh Esler single-handedly closed the gap with an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 17 and a 12-footer on No. 18 to clinch a tie for the team title.
It was the second team championship this season for Arizona and the fourth for Florida. The Gators moved into the top slot in this event after finishing as the runner-up five times in 2005-06, including its last three outings.
Florida freshman Billy Horschel and Nevada senior Casey Watabu tied for individual medalist honors with 13-under 203 totals. Horschel carded a six-under 66 Saturday, while Watabu fired an eight-under 64, the low individual round of the tournament, to top the 141-man field.
Last Year at the NCAA Championships: Arizona shot a 27-over-par 307 and fell into 17th place after 54 holes of the NCAA Championships.
UA’s 27-over-par 307 effort left the team in 17th place with a three-round total of 885 (+45), which means the Wildcats missed the 54-hole cut by two strokes. It was UA’s highest single-round team total at the Championships since a final-round 311 (+23) in 2003. It also marked Arizona’s worst finish since 2003, when the Cats also finished 17th.
Senior Nathan Lashley finished the 72 holes with a 10-over par 290. It was his first appearance at the Championships. He won the right to play in the final round as one of six individuals by claiming one of two remaining spots in a three-man playoff prior to Saturday’s final round.
Lashley’s 290 total put him in a tie for 27th place.
Arizona Individuals Team Finish
T27. Nathan Lashley 71-71-75-73=290 (+10) 1. Georgia...................... 1135
T74. Josh Esler........... 71-76-77=224 (+14) 2. Georgia Tech.............. 1146
T85. Travis Esway....... 68-75-82=225 (+15) 3. Washington................ 1153
T85. Brian Prouty........ 72-75-78=225 (+15) 4. Brigham Young........... 1154
T97. Henry Liaw.......... 74-75-77=226 (+16) 5. New Mexico................ 1158
17........................... ARIZONA 885
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 enters the 2006 Division I Men’s Golf NCAA Championships riding 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.
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.
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).
Cat Tracks at Crosswater: Arizona golf has a nice historical link to the Crosswater Club at Sunriver Resort. The last time an NCAA championship event was held there, the 2004 NCAA West Regional, Arizona placed third with an eight-over 872 and Chris Nallen tied for medalist honors with a five-under 211. Two current Wildcats also competed in that event as freshmen, Henry Liaw and Josh Esler. Liaw tied for 13th place with a one-over 217, while Esler tied for 62nd place with a 10-over 226. Incidentally, the UA women captured the 2000 national championship by 21 strokes at the Crosswater Club.
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.
Will It Germinate?: Is there a team that helped itself more during regionals with it’s seeding at nationals than Arizona? Entering the regional, the Wildcats were a top-25 club hoping to move up based on a solid regional effort. Now 827 strokes and a regional win later, UA finds itself as the No. 2 national seed thanks to the new seeding procedure that takes both season-long and regional results into account.
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.
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.
Following Suit: As mentioned above, Arizona’s 827 (-37) tally at the West Regional equaled the school record for low tournament total in relation to par. That record was originally set by the 1992 squad at the John Burns Intercollegiate. Why does that matter? UA’s 1992 team went on to win the national championship.
Can It Continue?: OK, let’s be honest. While some may have thought that Arizona had an outside chance of winning, or in this case tying, for West Regional championship because the event was contested at Omni Tucson National, fewer would have thought the Cats could do it by 13 strokes with a blistering 37-under total. The Wildcats entered the regional with a countable stroke average of 72.53 (now 72.24) and had been under par in only three events this season, and March’s National Invitational Tournament, which was also at Tucson National, wasn’t one of them. But the bottom line in golf is to put the ball in the cup in the fewest number of strokes possible, and Arizona did that as well as anyone during the regional. All told, Arizona’s individual stroke average of 68.92 during the regional was 3.81 strokes less than the field average. Now the obvious question is can it continue this week?
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, 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 has been difficult for the Wildcat coaching staff because so many players have seen action. Over the course of 12 stroke play events this season a total of 11 different players have made up the UA varsity lineup. In fact, Arizona has used the same five-man lineup in back-to-back events just once this season prior to this event. Based on the results, it not surprising that UA will feature the same lineup used at the West Regional. Additionally, only junior Henry Liaw has seen action in all 13 varsity appearances.
The Ex(perience) Factor: UA golf fans can hope that experience won’t be too big of a factor when the NCAA Championships begin on May 31 because the Wildcat lineups features a total of 20 rounds of NCAA Championship experience, and 60 percent of that resides with two players (Henry Liaw and Josh Esler, seven each).
Lowering Expectations: Arizona’s countable stroke average has hovered above or around 72.00 for the entire season, and currently sits as 72.24. Recently, however, that figure has been falling of late. Over Arizona’s last four events, including the Pac-10 Championships where the low five scores from six players are counted each round, the squad’s countable stroke average drops to 70.86.
Show Us the Way: Junior Henry Liaw is the most experienced Wildcat with 119 rounds played in his two-plus seasons in Tucson. Liaw leads the team in appearances (14), rounds played (40), stroke average (71.70), top-20 finishes (7), low round (66), low tournament total (202/-11) and rounds at par or better (22). Additionally, 35 of his 37 rounds played in team events (94.6 percent) have counted towards the team total.
A Stabilizing Factor: Practically a fixture in the lineup since his freshman season, junior Josh Esler is enjoying the best statistical season of his career with a 72.91 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’s tied for second on the team with 15 rounds at par or better.
Making a Charge: Freshman Ben Fox makes 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 ranks second on the team with a 72.10 stroke average and has been within two strokes of par or better in seven of nine tournaments this season. In seven spring events, Fox’s stroke average falls to 71.38, a figure that leads the team since the calendar changed to 2006. Fox carries a 70.69 stroke average over his last 13 rounds played.
Good Timing: Tucson native Brian Prouty is enjoying a solid statistical season in which he has amassed career bests in appearances (10), rounds played (30) top-10 finishes (2), low tournament (205/-8), rounds at par or better (13) and low finish (third). In 30 rounds played this season, he has a respectable 73.03 stroke average, but that mark falls to 70.69 over his last 13 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 at Tucson Country Club to claim one of six spots in the sectional qualifier, which will be held June 5 at Columbine Country Club in Littleton, Colo. Neal is sitting 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. Six former Wildcats played in the 2005 U.S. Open.
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.