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Thursday, February 11, 2010


A Look Around College Golf at the Start of the Spring Season


By Ron Balicki
GCAA Contributor

NORMAN, Okla. ?

Most of the time we hear about coaches and players involved with the bigger NCAA Division I programs. But there are a lot of other smaller programs out there that get -- and deserve -- some recognition.

 

That?s why it just brought a smile to my face when I learned that some non-NCAA programs were making their way onto the international stage of golf. In this case, from within the NAIA and NJCAA.

 

Coaches and players from within the NJCAA (junior college) and NAIA will have their time in the world spotlight this year as part of the World University Men?s Golf Championships.

 

The international competition will take place June 7-11 in Malaga, Spain.

 

Selected by their respective associations, Dave Jennings of Central Alabama Community College and Jeff Griebel of St. Ambrose University will coach the men?s team, a six-man squad selected by the two coaches based on individual record and national ranking within their respective organization.

 

For Jennings, the trip to Spain comes shortly after Central Alabama hosts the third of three consecutive NJCAA Division I Men?s National Championships.

 

?This is a great honor, not only for myself and Jeff as coaches, but for the young men who will also represent the United States in this international competition,? Jennings said. ?And, what a thrill it?s going to be for all of us to travel to Spain to do just that.?

 

Both Jennings and Griebel will have one of their own players on the six-man squad as Zach Primavera from CACC and Dusty Drenth of St. Ambrose have been selected.

 

Rounding the U.S. contingent will be Kurt Slattery of Indian Hills Community College, Spencer Baldwin of Brevard Community College, Justin Lower of Malone College and Austin Conroy of Indiana Wesleyan.

 

On the women?s side for this year?s World University Golf Championships, also to be played in Malaga, Spain on the same dates, Diane Thomason, past women?s head coach at the University of Iowa, will guide Team USA, which will be comprised of six NCAA Division I players.

 

The World University Championships, sponsored by the International University Sports Federation, are held every two years. The 2008 event was staged in South Africa. Team USA won the women?s gold medal in a 13-country field, while the U.S. men placed fifth out of 14 countries. Japan won the gold, Spain the silver and Great Britain the bronze.

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For so many years, when one thought of golf in the Big 10 Conference, more than likely Ohio State first came to mind. Understandably so as the Buckeyes have produced such players as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Jonh Cook and Joey Sindelar to name a few. They also were the league?s dominant force year in and year out.

 

But the winds of change blew through the Big 10 in the past decade.

So, which men?s golf program was the best in the Big 10 in the 2000s? How about the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.

 

The Gophers? average finish at the Big 10 Championship was 2.5, easily the best in the conference. They finished in the top half in every championship, including nine times in the top four, with three titles and three second place showings.

 

Next best within the conference was Northwestern with an average of 4.2, followed by Purdue at 4.4 and Ohio State at 4.7.

 

After that it was Michigan State (5.4), Illinois (5.6), Indiana (5.8), Penn State (7.4), Michigan (8.0), Wisconsin (8.4) and Iowa (8.8).

 

In addition to its conference accomplishments, the decade saw Minnesota win its first NCAA Championship in 2002, becoming the first northern school to do so since 1972. The Gophers made six NCAA finals appearances, the most among Big 10 schools and had top-10 finishes in 2006 (T3) and 2007 (T9). Purdue and Northwestern were second with four NCAA finals berths during the decade and only Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern managed top-10 NCAA finishes over the 10-year span.

 

Also, the Gophers led the Big 10 with nine NCAA Regional berths and they notched 15 All-Amerca awards, highlighted by Bronson La?Cassie becoming the first four-time All-America (2004-07) in school history.

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A quick question and answer session with Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins, who guided the Aggies to their first NCAA golf championship last season:

 

 

Q:  How has life changed as far as the way you and the Texas A&M program are perceived since winning the NCAA Championship?

 

A: It?s been pretty amazing. It was the first national championship in 70 for a men?s program at A&M. The guys were like rock stars around here. We received the Key to the City from College Station and the  State Senate, Governor, City of Bryan and Texas A&M Board of Regents all issued proclamations honoring the team (we have attended most of these ceremonies). We led the Corp of Cadets onto Kyle Field for the first Midnight Yell practice of the year, the first time in the history of the school that anyone was afforded this honor (we did it with the men?s and women?s track teams who also won NCAA Championships). We?ve done a bunch of autograph signings and had a signing on Halloween at Kyle Field before we received our championship rings at half-time of the Iowa State game. There are two billboards up on Hwy 6 congratulating and honoring the team and Chevron and Texaco have commissioned a commemorative poster of the national championship and Bronson?s shot. I even got to throw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game in August. And, we?ve sure been getting better pairings at tournaments now.

 

Q: As defending national champions, how have the expectations grown entering the new season?

 

A: Expectations are really high from everyone surrounding the program but that is really no different than in years past. We have always believed we had a team capable of competing at that level and we still expect the best from anyone associated with the team. It is the expectations from the outside that has changed and we have to learn to deal with that as well.

 

Q: Bronson Burgoon was the senior team leader last season. Who steps up to fill that void?

 

A: Bronson is one of the two or three best players to ever come through this program and he was a true No. 1 player. When I filled in our lineup, I started with his name and worked my way down from there the last two years. I think the best players are the ones who you know will play well even when everyone else is struggling and that mindset is hard to find. Bronson had that and we need someone to step up and be that guy for us this year. I think we have some guys with the potential to do it but they all need to get a little tougher mentally before they fill that role.

 

Q: How much added pressure is there as reigning NCAA champions and how are you and he players dealing with it?

 

A: To be honest, I don?t know if the team feels any added pressure or not but I don?t. To me, it is a whole new season and the national championship seems like it happened a long time ago. I look at this group of guys, this team, and all I see is all the work there is to do and how much better we need to get by May. I will say this though, we have talked about taking pride in the fact that we are national champions and that we need to carry ourselves like we are deserving of that honor.

 

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Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion landed four players each on the recently announced Colonial Athletic Association?s Silver Anniversary Men?s Golf Team.

 

As part of the league?s 25th anniversary celebration in 2009-10, the CAA is recognizing Silver Anniversary teams in 21 championship sports. The teams were selected by a panel of current and former coaches in the conference.

 

Members of the men?s golf team: Ted Brown, Donny Lee, Reg Millage and John Rollins from VCU; Stan Guerrero, Michael Hospodar, Eric Onesi and Geoffrey Harris of Old Dominion; Mark Haastrup, Tom Sherreard and Joel Sjoholm of Georgia State; Derek Brown and Adam Gee of UNC-Wilmington; Jeff Castle, and Billy Wingerd of Towson; Josh Dickinson and John Maginnes of East Carolina; Rob Gai, Steve Jamroz and Rob Shawger of Richmond; John McHenry, Brent Paladino and Tim Pemberton of William & Mary; Craig Mason of George Mason; and Jay Woodson of James Madison.

 

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