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2002 Golf Outlook

2002 Golf Outlook

Feb. 18, 2002

2002 Clemson Golf Notes

The Clemson men’s golf program has performed at a level unequaled by any Clemson athletic program in the last 22 years. Larry Penley’s team has put together five consecutive top 10 finishes, including three in the top three since 1997, something that has not been done at Clemson since the men’s soccer program had seven straight top six finishes between 1973-79.

While many college golf observers feel Penley has the program on autopilot, a return to the top 10 for a sixth straight year would be among his greatest coaching accomplishments. Clemson was ranked in the top five in the nation for 62 consecutive MasterCard Collegiate polls from March 4, 1998 to the final poll of 2001.

But, when the preseason poll for 2001-02 was released Clemson was not among the top five teams nationally. The Tigers were ranked ninth, giving Penley reason to smile. For once the Tigers will be the hunters and not the hunted.

There is logic in Clemson’s drop from among the top five teams in the nation. The Tigers lost three starters from the 2000-01 team. In fact, they had been starters each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.

There were two common denominators in the Clemson lineup for four years, Lucas Glover and John Engler. Penley has had to replace great players in recent years like Richard Coughlan after 1996-97, Charles Warren after 1997-98 and Jonathan Byrd after the 1999-00 season to name a few. But, never has he had to replace two first-team All-Americans in the same year, as he has for this season.

“You don’t replace those guys,” said Penley, who has taken Clemson to the NCAA National tournament 18 consecutive years. “Their leadership, work habits and scoring ability were incredible for the last four years. They established new levels of excellence in all areas. They left Clemson ranked as the top two stroke average players in our history.”

Penley is quick to point out that replacing 2001 senior Jani Saari also won’t be easy. Perhaps the greatest number-five player in Clemson history, Saari played in three NCAA national events and was a key to Clemson’s top 10 finishes. His score counted in 11 of 12 NCAA national rounds.

While Penley must replace three starters for the first time since 1994, he will be the first to tell you that he has a young, but talented team. “It is important that we play a lot of people. We want the new players to gain some confidence early and build some momentum. We are not short on talent, we are short on experience.”

Penley followed that plan in the fall of 2001 by playing seven different players. Only returning starters Gregg Jones and D.J. Trahan, and sophomore Matt Hendrix played in all five tournaments. The approach worked as Clemson had four top finishes in the five events, including a first place finish at the Ping/Golfweek Preview, the most prestigious fall golf event in the country. Clemson shot an 862 score on the Scarlet Course at Ohio State to win the event for the second time in school history. As a result of the fall success, Clemson is ranked fifth in the nation entering the spring of 2002.

Three players return from last year who played at least eight tournaments, so Penley is not devoid of experience players. Leading the way are Gregg Jones, starters for the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament last year, plus Ben Duncan, who played in eight tournaments and 23 rounds in 2000-01.

“D.J. and Gregg will lead the way, especially early,” said Penley. “They have been in the NCAA Tournament and know what it is like to be challenging for a championship. They are two good players to build our team around. They will bring stability to our team.”

Trahan was Clemson’s top performer at each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, with a pair of top 16 finishes, quite a statement considering Glover and Engler played in both events. He just completed the greatest fall in Clemson golf history, perhaps in college history. For six events in the fall of 2001, Trahan posted a 69.78 stroke average. Sixteen of his 18 rounds were at par or better and he had eight rounds in the 60s.

His run from the Ping Preview through the Savane All-American was incredible. In those five tournaments he finished first or second in each, and captured the Carpet Classic and the Jerry Pate. His performance at the Ping Preview was legendary. Needing a birdie on the last hole to give Clemson the team title, he promptly drove the ball over trees nearly 380 yards. He birdied the hole to give Clemson the team victory.

After a 10-under par performance at the Savane, he was elevated to the nation’s number-one ranking, a first for a Clemson golfer in any computer rating system. “His fall performance was just incredible,” said Penley. “I new he was capable of consistent low scoring, but he even surprised me. He has carried us most of the fall. If the rest of the team continues to improve we will surprise some people this spring.”

Trahan won the 2000 United States Public Links championship and played in the 2001 Masters. He was also chosen to the United States Walker Cup team and enters the spring of 2002 with a 71.89 career stroke average.

“D.J. is a big time player,” said Penley. “The bigger the event the better he plays. He has been in the shadows as a freshman and sophomore from a leadership standpoint. But, he is now looking forward to that responsibility as a junior. The limelight will be on him and he is ready for it.”

Jones had a 73.43 stroke average as a freshman, the fourth best in Clemson history for a rookie. Only Engler, Glover and Trahan have posted better freshman stroke averages. He finished the season on a high note, finishing 22nd at the ACC Tournament, 10th at the NCAA regional and 39th at the national tournament. This past fall he posted a solid 72.73 average for five events, including a ninth-place finish at the Ping Preview, an indication of what he can do against top flight competition.

The son of parents who are both Clemson graduates had an outstanding summer of 2001, winning the South Carolina Match Play for the second straight year, and the South Carolina Open. “Gregg got a taste of what it is like at the top last year with his NCAA experience at the end of the season. He knows what it takes from a work ethic standpoint to compete and he is willing to put in the time.”

Matt Hendrix is one of the young players who stepped up his play this past fall. By virtue of his advancement to the Match Play portion of the US Amateur, Hendrix did not have to go through team qualifying for the first event of the year at The Ridges, a rule Penley has used for many years for his returning players.

Hendrix made the most of it in the opportunity. He never came out of the lineup and finished with a 73.93 stroke average for 15 rounds, third best on the team. His score counted 14 of the 15 rounds and he was a model of consistency, finishing between 26 and 33 in all five events. He was Clemson’s number-three finisher in all five events. “Matt Hendrix had an outstanding fall, a reason we have risen in the polls,” said Penley. “He was very consistent at number-three. We look for him to continue that consistency in the spring.”

Ben Duncan played in eight events as a sophomore and posted a 73.65 stroke average. His top performance was a 15th place finish at The Schenkel. He also had a strong showing at the Ping Preview where he finished 29th in a strong field. He is now a veteran of 14 tournaments in his Clemson career entering the spring.

Jack Ferguson is a red-shirt freshman who played in four events in the fall and posted a 74.5 stroke average. He showed his capabilities with a 13th place finish at The Ridges in his first career tournament. That included a second-round 68. It was the only event in the fall that Trahan did not lead the Tigers.

Ferguson was runnerup to Gregg Jones at the South Carolina Match Play last summer, finished fifth at the South Carolina Amateur, seventh at the Rice Planters and 10th at the Southern Amateur. He reminds many of Chris Patton when it comes to short game ability.

Michael Sims is a red-shirt sophomore who is also capable of joining the lineup. He is yet to appear in a match for the Tigers, but he certainly has the ability. He was a high school teammate of Trahan on two state championship teams in South Carolina.

Tripp James is the only senior on the 10-man roster. The native of Spartanburg had a solid 225 total at the US Collegiate in Mexico last year and played in the Carpet Classic this past fall, helping Clemson to a top 4 finish. He has played in six career rounds at Clemson and his score has counted five times. James also showed improvement over the summer by finishing as a semifinalist at the South Carolina Match Play.

Three first-year freshmen will round out the Clemson roster for 2001-02. Don’t be surprised if one of them breaks into the Tiger lineup this spring. Penley played Glover and Engler when they were first-year freshmen in 1998 when Clemson finished second in the nation. Martin Catalioto was a two-time Player of the Year in the state of New Jersey who qualified for the national stroke play portion of the US Amateur last year. He played in three tournaments this past fall, including the Tigers victory at the Ping Preview.

Ben Duncan, won the South Carolina State 3A Championship as a senior and was the 2000 Carolinas Golf Association Junior Champion. He reached the semifinals of the South Carolina Match Play this past summer and finished eighth at the South Carolina Amateur.

Brian Duncan and Poole did not play in the fall and could red-shirt this year.