Sept. 10, 2009
Driven by depth and experience, the Arizona men's golf team has all the pieces in place to excel during the 2009-10 season.
Following a second-place NCAA Regional performance and an NCAA Championship berth, Arizona returns five of its top six golfers from a 2008-09 team that a year ago out-performed its youth. The young, inexperienced team that qualified for the NCAA Championships for the 22nd time in the last 23 years, last season, has grown into a solid squad with veteran players and a true leader in All-American Tarquin MacManus.
"We have experience this year; we have players who have been there before," said head coach Rick LaRose. "They have seen most of the courses we will be playing this year, which is a good thing. Last year, we were inconsistent due to our inexperience, this year we hope to reverse that. Last year we had no real work horse, no leader. We have that this year in Tarquin (MacManus). He will be our number one player, our team leader. He's the guy we are counting on to lead the way."
MacManus, entering his junior season, looks to build off his 2008-09 campaign in which he garnered numerous accolades including honorable mention All-America, second-team all Pac-10 and an all-West region. His 72.58 career stroke average, which is the fifth-best career stroke average in the program's illustrious history, shows that he is the right man to lead the program.
MacManus led the team in stroke average (72.35), top 20 finishes (7), low round (63), low tournament (198, -15) and rounds under par (16). MacManus became the sixth Wildcat to win an NCAA Regional with his 198 (-15) performance in the NCAA Southeast Regional. The 198 strokes taken are the fourth least in a 54-hole tournament in school history.
Now that the Cats have a designated leader, it becomes important to have consistent contributions from the top of the lineup. Junior Jonathan Khan and senior Rich Saferian should fill that role.
"Jonathan Khan and Rich Saferian both are capable of great things," said LaRose. "We expect Jonathan Khan with two years under his belt, and Rich Saferian with one, to step up for us. Both should join MacManus as All-Americans."
Saferian and Khan ranked second and third, respectively, on the team in stroke average with sub-74 averages. Khan's 15 rounds played under par were only one behind team leader Tarquin MacManus. Both golfers recorded top five finishes a year ago, and look to improve upon that as both hope to earn their first collegiate win.
MacManus, Khan and Saferian will lead the way for the talented team, but the effort of the fourth, fifth and, in some cases, sixth player in the lineup is equally, if not more, important to the success of the team. This is where the Wildcats' depth will take the team's play to the next level.
Sophomore Phil Bagdade and senior Brad Nicholson each saw time in the lineup last season, and both competed in the Pac-10 Championships with the former earning a slot in the rotation for the NCAA postseason. Both players are entering their second season in the program, which means less adjusting and more execution.
Bagdade accumulated a 74.38 stroke average a year ago, a figure that ranks amongst the best in school history. The sophomore's 42 rounds played led the team, giving him experience beyond his years. His two top five finishes ranked second best on the team.
"Phil Bagdade really excelled at times last year; we expect big things out of him," said LaRose. "If he continues to improve as much as he did last year, there is no limit as to how good he can be. He has all the tools to excel."
Nicholson, a streaky golfer, showed signs of brilliance at times and struggled at others, but always proved to be a solid competitor. The senior played a string of 10 rounds in the middle of the season at an average of 72.70 strokes. Getting performance like that consistently will undoubtedly mean great things for the team.
"Nicholson played in our top five most of the year, giving him great experience that we expect to translate into a very nice senior season," said LaRose.
Bagdade and Nicholson will have plenty of competition for spots in the lineup. Highly touted newcomers and some improved returners give this team numerous options and a deep roster.
"In addition to our returning starters and incoming freshman, we have some players coming back who have had a great summer. John Kostis has improved a lot, he qualified for the U.S. Amateur and should fill some gaps," LaRose said. "We need all of our returners to continue to get better. It's those guys that help continue the Arizona tradition of being one of the top programs in the country."
A member of the Pac-10 All-Academic team, John Kostis, a junior from Paradise Valley, Ariz., hopes to improve on a 2008-09 campaign in which he saw the course for only eight tournaments. Kostis had a top 20 finish and played three rounds under par.
Six golfers will wear Cardinal and Navy for the first time this season. LaRose pulled in a solid recruiting class that includes five incoming freshman and one junior college transfer.
"We expect big things out of our incoming players. Juan Pablo Hernandez was a junior All-American in Mexico City. Trent Redfern was a top junior player from Austin, Texas. We've got Jimmy Kozikowski and Stefan Cox, who was the California Junior College champion from Essex, England," said LaRose, who begins his 32nd year as the Wildcat head coach.
Expectations are high for the squad, and with arsenal that the coaching staff has for the season, the team looks to return to the NCAA Championships, and perhaps more.
"The goals haven't changed. Not only do we hope to reach the NCAA Tournament, but we hope to win the national title," said LaRose. I have a very good feeling about this year. I am really excited and anxious about the upcoming season, and really excited about the future. I love the direction we're going."
With only two seniors among the 18-man roster, the diverse range of experience should lead to a bright outlook for the future.