Men's golf 2009 outlook
With the core of a team that won the 2008 Pacific-10 Conference Championship returning this season, the Arizona State men's golf team has its set sights set on big things in 2009.
The Sun Devils return their entire lineup from last year's NCAA Championships and five of the six players who participated in the Pac-10 Championships, so they will be an experienced group this spring as college golf enters a new era.
The landscape of NCAA men's golf is changing this year, with the postseason taking on a new format. There will be six Regionals with five teams from each advancing to the NCAA Championships, a change from three Regionals with 10 each moving on. Those 30 teams will then play 54 holes of stroke play at the national tournament, with the individual champion being declared at that point, but the top eight teams will then move on to match play and be seeded according to their finish in the stroke play portion. So, the No. 1 team will face the No. 8 team, No. 2 will face No. 7, and so on, and the team that wins three rounds of match play will be crowned the national champion.
ASU finished sixth in the NCAA Ping/Golfweek Preview, a 54-hole stroke play event, in September at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, the same course that will host the NCAA Championships in May.
"We finished sixth, which would put us into match play, and from there anything can happen," said ASU's 17th-year head coach Randy Lein. "I'd say for any of the top 20 teams in the country, the immediate goal is to make it into match play, and then you have a legitimate chance of winning the national title. Defending the Pac-10 Championship and making it to match play (at the NCAA Championships) are our main goals for the spring."
If the Sun Devils are to accomplish those goals, it's likely that sophomore Jesper Kennegard (Klippan, Sweden) will play a big role. After a superb freshman campaign in which he won the Hawaii-Hilo Intercollegiate, posted three other top-five finishes, and earned first-team All-Pac-10 and honorable mention All-American honors, Kennegard picked up where he left off in the fall. He finished tied for fifth in the individual competition at the NCAA Preview, tied for eighth at the World Amateur Championships in Australia while helping his Swedish team finish third, and he tied for 13th at the Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic in El Paso, Texas.
"He's certainly one of the top 20 players in the country," Lein said. "He continues to get better and better. He's very competitive, he's a good team player and he's a good leader. Mentally, he's very tough, and he's just going to continue to get better."
Two other sophomores from Europe figure to contribute heavily this season as well. Stephan Gross (Leimen, Germany) and James Byrne (Banchory, Scotland) were both part of ASU's lineup in last year's Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments, and they hope to keep their success going in their second year as Sun Devils.
Gross had three top-10 finishes in seven events as a freshman, and he backed that up with an excellent summer in Europe. He won the European Amateur and the German International Amateur, and he finished second at the Vodafone Challenge, a European Challenge Tour professional event. He also played in the World Amateur in October, finishing tied for 21st.
"He had a great summer," Lein said. "It was probably one of the top summers that an amateur has had over in Europe, to do what he did."
Byrne played in eight events as a freshman, with his best performance coming at the Pac-10 Championships. He shot 1-under 283 over the four days of the tournament to finish tied for third and lead the Sun Devils to the team title. Byrne also won the North-east District Open in Scotland over the summer, as he shot a course-record 61 in the second round and won the tournament by eight shots.
"I think James is more than capable to win tournaments," Lein noted. "He's capable of doing spectacular things."
Juniors Knut Borsheim (Bergen, Norway) and Braxton Marquez (Scottsdale, Ariz.) also return from last year's Pac-10 and NCAA lineups. Borsheim joined Kennegard and Gross in playing in the World Amateur Championships in October, while Marquez was ASU's highest individual finisher at the NCAA Championships last May.
"I'm waiting for (Knut) to break out, because he's very talented," Lein said. "Last year, he was good, but he is better than good. He should elevate his game.
"(Braxton) is a good player, but he's also one of those kids who's grinding the whole time. He's going to give you everything he has, and for a coach, that's meaningful."
Several other players will vie for spots in the lineup this spring. Sophomore Scott Pinckney (Anthem, Ariz.) had his best collegiate result at the Olympia Fields Invitational in Chicago in September, as he tied for seventh and shot a career-best 67 in the second round.
Junior Tristan Bierenbroodspot (Loon Op Land, Netherlands) got his first career collegiate win in the fall, as he captured the Bill Cullum Invitational in Northridge, Calif., with a three-round score of 10-under 206.
Freshman Chan Kim, a Chandler Hamilton High School graduate, played in both the Olympia Fields Invitational and NCAA Preview this fall, and he was ASU's second-highest finisher with a tie for 17th at the Preview.
Seniors Erik Coover (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Ryan Kelley (Phoenix, Ariz.), sophomore Cameron Edens (Phoenix, Ariz.) and freshman Spencer Fletcher (Los Altos, Calif.) will round out the roster and compete for playing time this season as well.
"If you have guys that are capable of winning individually, then you've got a team that's capable of winning the whole thing," Lein said. "We're going to have a lot of guys and a lot of depth this year."