Entering his 34th season at the helm of the Arizona golf program, Rick LaRose, director of golf and head men's coach at Arizona, has established Wildcat golf as one of the nation's finest collegiate golf programs.
Year-in and year-out, the hall of fame coach has his charges in the national rankings, near the top of the leader board and in the hunt for the national championship. LaRose has guided Arizona to 24 NCAA postseason appearances in the last 25 seasons, and 23 berths in the NCAA Championships in that span.
Beginning in 1987, LaRose led UA to a streak of 21 consecutive appearances at the NCAA Championships, the fifth-longest streak in NCAA history. Additionally, the Wildcats have qualified for the NCAA Regional 22 times in 23 seasons since the format was introduced in 1989, and Arizona's six regional championships rank third nationally.
The 2011 spring season was one of serious improvement for the Wildcats, as the squad collected six top-five finishes in 10 starts, including a win Feb. 8 at the Anteater Invitational, and saw its scoring average drop considerably. Arizona's countable stroke average for the spring was 8.64 strokes lower than the fall figure. Individually, that improvement boils down to 2.16 strokes per man. As head coach Rick LaRose said following the NCAA Regional, "I couldn't be more proud of this team. We played our hearts out." How far has the club come this spring? Arizona was 78-38 this spring in head-to-head competition prior to the NCAA Championships after finishing the fall with a 10-33 mark. Further, Arizona carded its low tournament total of the season, an eight-under 844, when it mattered most --at the NCAA Regional -- to tie for fourth place.
Arizona's 2009 NCAA postseason lineup featured one senior, three sophomores and a freshman and zero rounds of experience in NCAA Championship action, but through it all, LaRose worked it into one that eventually finished second at the NCAA Southeast Regional and qualified for the NCAA Championships. Of the 13 players on the 2008-09 Arizona roster, the low four stroke averages came from three sophomores and a freshman. In 13 team events, underclassmen were UA's top finisher 10 times. They have performed well, as the four underclassmen (MacManus, Saferian, Khan, Bagdade) collected 10 top-10 finishes and posted 48 rounds at par or better.
LaRose took a largely untested squad in 2006-07 that featured just two players from the regular lineup the year before and built it into a competitive bunch that just may have gone above its cumulative potential. After a slow start in the fall that saw just one top-five finish in those five team events, the Wildcats rebounded to post five top-five finishes during the spring, including a 36-under-par effort at the NCAA West Regional that secured yet another NCAA Championship appearance. En route, two players earned all-Pac-10 honors and three players from that roster eventually qualified for the 2007 United States Amateur Championship.
Faced with another youthful lineup in 2005-06, LaRose turned the group into a highly competitive unit that claimed two team championships, including a record-setting effort in winning the NCAA West Regional, one individual medalist and five top-five finishes. Over the four previous seasons, Arizona has claimed a total of 11 tournament victories.
All told, three Wildcats garnered all-conference accolades in 2005-06, while one player also earned All-America distinction.
His coaching efforts may not have shone brighter than in 2003-04. Rebuilding a lineup that lost four of its top five players to graduation, LaRose molded a group made of one senior, one junior and four freshmen into one of the finest teams on the collegiate tour. After struggling a bit in the fall, the group turned it on in the spring and rolled to four tournament wins in nine events. Included in the effort was the program's first Pac-10 championship in 13 seasons and top-three finishes at both the NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships. Arizona's third place finish at the national championship meet was the program's sixth under LaRose's direction.
LaRose and his charges were rewarded for their efforts in 2003-04, as Arizona swept the Pac-10's Player- Coach- and Freshman-of-the-Year accolades. Furthermore, LaRose was honored with Pacific Region Coach-of-the-Year kudos by the Golf Coaches Association of America.
Four Wildcats earned a total of five All-America honors in 2004. It marked the 13th consecutive season in which UA has had at least one All-American, including multiple honorees in nine of those campaigns. Additionally, Chris Nallen was a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award.
Arizona golfers shined on the collegiate, amateur and professional levels in 2002-03. In that span, the Wildcats rolled to four tournament victories, the most in a single season since 1992, advanced to the NCAA Championships for the 17th consecutive season and posted the lowest countable stroke average in school history.
Two of his charges, Ricky Barnes and Chris Nallen earned All-America accolades for the third year in a row and established themselves as one of the finest duos in amateur golf. Barnes won the 2002 United States Amateur championship and was named co-winner of the 2003 Ben Hogan Award and Pac-10 Player of the Year, while Nallen captured the 2003 Northeast Amateur championship and participated in both the Palmer and Walker Cups. Additionally, former UA All-American Jim Furyk won the 2003 United States Open Championships at Olympia Fields Country Club in June.
As a testament to his outstanding golf legacy, LaRose was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America's Hall of Fame on Jan. 22, 2003. He surpassed 6,000 career coaching victories in February 2011.
LaRose led the Wildcats to another top-10 finish at the 2002 NCAA Championships, his ninth since 1988. Through the course of the season, Arizona tallied five top-five team finishes, achieved a national ranking as high as No. 2, and collected two All-Americans. Ricky Barnes tied for individual medalist honors at the NCAA West Regional and led the team to its 16th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championships.
LaRose piloted his team to a pair of team titles in 2000-01, including the 2000 College Golf Foundation Match Play national championship, and three individual medalist honors. Once again, LaRose's teams played its best golf late in the season. With a starting five that included a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen, the Wildcats posted four consecutive top-three finishes to close the 2001 campaign and earned a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Along the way, LaRose's charges earned a golf bag-full of honors as distinctions, including two All-Americans, a freshman All-American, the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year and four all-conference honorees. Arizona was one of just four schools in the country to have both a men's and women's Golf World national player of the week in 2000-01.
Finishing third just two strokes behind the leaders at the NCAA Championships, the 1999-2000 UA men's golf season was one that went down as one of the most rewarding in the program's history. From beginning the year not ranked in the top 25 to its third-place finish at the NCAA Championships, the Cats continued to improve each week and posted two wins on the year, including the NCAA West Regional, and finished second four times.
Now in his 39th season as a Wildcat head coach, LaRose began coaching at the UA in 1973 as the head coach of the water polo team and swimming coach. He has coached four different teams at the University of Arizona during his tenure, and all four of these programs have been ranked in the top-five nationally, while producing All-American athletes on all fronts. LaRose is only coach in collegiate history to win both a men's (1992) and women's (1996) NCAA golf title, and has consistently produced winning programs and individual golfers who have been among the country's elite.
Prior to taking over the golf program in 1978, he guided the UA water polo team to four NCAA regional championships and three fifth-place finishes at the NCAA Championships. His teams were never ranked out of the top six nationally and had five All-American performers and one United States Olympian. His record as water polo coach was 154-37-2 (.803). As the Wildcat swimming coach, he helped guide six U.S. Olympian swimmers, 20 All-Americans and one national champion.
His golf teams have been ranked in the top 20 in 26 of those 33 seasons, including a string of eight consecutive years that the Cats were ranked in the top three nationally. Further, the team has been the nation's No. 1 team 13 different times, most recently during the 1997-98 campaign, when it was ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season.
With the double-duty as the head coach for both the Arizona men's and women's programs (1996-98), he led the women to the 1996 NCAA title and each squad was ranked No. 1 during those seasons. He also had a hand in coaching two-time NCAA Women's Golfer of the Year and 1996 national champion, Marisa Baena.
LaRose's teams have won two NCAA titles, seven NCAA regional championships, four Pac-10 crowns and three Rolex Match Play titles. In addition to being the only coach in college golf to coach both a men's and women's NCAA championship team, he is also the only one to produce both a men's and women's Rolex Match Play and Pac-10 championship teams. His finishes at the NCAAs not only include the 1992 men's and 1996 women's titles, but six third-place, two fifth-place and two sixth-place efforts.
Since 1978, LaRose's golf teams have won 61 men's tournaments and 19 women's tourneys. He has also produced seven national players of the year, 11 Pac-10 Players of the Year, 68 All-Americans and 112 all-Pac-10 Conference performers. On the national front, he has had a hand in coaching two United States Amateur winners (and three runner-ups), five United States Walker Cup players, a pair of Ryder Cup golfers, a U.S. President's Cup performer and three United States Publinx champions. Eighteen of his pupils have also represented the U.S. in international collegiate competition.
His guidance has left a mark on the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, as 16 individuals from his water polo, swimming and golf teams have been inducted, as well as his 1992 and 1996 national championship golf squads.
His players have also left their mark on the professional tours, with such players as Jim Furyk, Robert Gamez, Mike Springer, Larry Silveira, Manny Zerman, David Berganio, Ted Purdy, Rory Sabbatini and most recently Ricky Barnes carrying on the UA golf tradition in the pro ranks.
His athletes have also excelled in the classroom, as there have been 12 All-American scholars, a Rhodes Scholar, a Walter Beyers NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship winner, seven Top Student-Athlete of the Year selections at the UA, and a graduation rate of over 80%. He has also produced two Honda Award winners, as Baena won the 1996 and 1997 awards, which signified the Athlete of the Year in women's golf.
In addition to his student-athletes, LaRose has earned his share of national recognition. The 1992 Golfweek Men's NCAA Coach of the Year, he received the same honor for the women in 1996 following its NCAA title. He has also been the NCAA District VIII Men's Golf Coach of the Year twice and the Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year five times (four men/one women). He won the 1977 Coach of the Year award for water polo and was a four-time NCAA District VII Water Polo Coach of the Year.
LaRose, a native of Delmar, N.Y., graduated from Bethlehem Central High School, where he won letters in swimming, baseball and golf. He went on the attend Brockport State University in Brockport, N.Y., and earned a bachelor of science degree in 1968. He was a three-time NCAA All-American swimmer there, swimming the backstroke, freestyle and individual medley. An all-around athlete, he won three SUNY Conference swimming titles as well as the 1967 New York Collegiate Golf championship and was a member of the 1966 SUNY Conference cross country title team. He was inducted into the Brockport State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
After his time at Brockport State, he completed graduate work at UC-Irvine and the University of Arizona, where he graduated with a master's in education. He was selected to Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities and was a member of Phi Delta Kappa. While at the UA, he has taught physical education and supervised student teachers in the college of education. Prior to his days in Tucson, he taught elementary, junior high and high school in Tustin, Calif., where he got his start in coaching swimming, water polo, baseball and basketball.
His Tustin High School and Fountain High School water polo teams were always among the best in Southern California, producing 10 All-Americans and five CIF champions. He was also the head coach of the Southern California Aquatic Club with his teams placing in the top-10 at both the AAU Short Course and Long Course Championships.
He later played professional fastpitch softball for the Tucson Rattlers of the American Professional League, which won the World Championship in 1976. He has played in three ISC World Championships and was selected an ASA and ISC All-State player.
An acclaimed golfer as well, he has qualified for and played in the United State Amateur Championship and the United States Mid-Amateur Championship. A member of the Arizona Golf Association's Goldwater Cup team, he won the 1996, `97 and `98 Dogwood Invitational Senior Amateur titles as well as the 1998 Porter Cup Senior Amateur championship.
A member of the Arizona Golf Association's Board of Directors, he also serves on numerous advisory boards and golf associations throughout the country. For all his work with the UA and in the Tucson community, the Tucson Conquistadores have honored him three times with their Sports Achievement Award.
He formed the University of Arizona Eagle Club, which is a booster organization for Wildcat golf, upon taking over the UA golf program in 1978. Through this group, the Wildcat Golf Tournament is held each year as a fundraiser for Arizona golf. With the help of its corporate sponsors - Pepsi and Golden Eagle Distributing - the tournament has become one of the finest of its kind and since its inception, it has raised over $1.7 million for the UA golf program.