Sept. 2, 2009
On some fronts, the 2009-10 season begins a new era in Clemson golf. No we aren’t talking about the head coaching position. Larry Penley begins his 27th season leading his program that has been to the NCAA Tournament all 26 previous years he has been at the helm, including 20 top 20 finishes, more than any coach in Clemson sports history. He has already been inducted into the College Golf Hall of Fame and will be inducted into the South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame on December 6.
But the roster is composed of just two seniors with the other nine student-athletes listed as sophomores or freshmen. For the first time in Penley’s coaching career, Clemson returns just one starter from the previous year. Gone is two-time first-team All-American Kyle Stanley, who won the prestigious Ben Hogan Award last year as college golf’s top amateur player. He finished second at the NCAA Tournament twice and finished his career second in stroke average, trailing only D.J. Trahan on the all-time list.
David May, the ACC Co-Champion of 2009, Phillip Mollica, a four-year player who was an all-region player in 2008, was a two-time Monroe Amateur Champion and a quarterfinalist at the 2009 US Amateur, and three-year starter Sam Saunders, have also moved on. Players who competed in just 15 of the 55 player spots in the 11 team tournaments return for this coming year.
Ben Martin is by far the most experience returning player and he will be the unquestioned team leader this year. The red-shirt senior from Greenwood, SC is a two-time All-ACC and two-time All-Region performer who ranks 14th in school history in career stroke average. He had quite a summer of 2009 when he played in the US Open and was a finalist at the United States Amateur.
“Ben Martin will be our team leader,” said Penley, who has led the Clemson program to eight ACC championships and seven NCAA Regional titles. “He is by far our most experienced player. He is a respected player because of what he has achieved on the course and in the classroom. His experience in the US Open and US Amateur this past summer should give him confidence to lead this team as well.”
Martin was the low qualifier at the US Open Sectional in Maryland last summer with an eight-under-par score against a strong field that included many tour players, then led the US Open after 13 holes at two under par. For an hour on Thursday he was atop the leaderboard, perhaps giving Clemson fans a foreshadowing of things to come for Lucas Glover, the eventual National Champion.
He then finished the summer off with a runner up finish at the US Amateur at Southern Hills in Tulsa, OK. He tied for second during the 36 hole qualifier in the 312-player field, then won five straight matches, all against players on Division I college programs before losing in the finals to protégé Byeun Hun An of Korea.
Martin had a solid junior year at Clemson and ranked second on the club in stroke average at 73.00. He finished the year ranked 57th in the Sagarin rankings thanks to a season in which he had a pair of top 10 finishes and 10 rounds at par or better. He was especially successful in the spring season when his 71.4 stroke average through the ACC Tournament was actually better than Stanley for the same period. He had five consecutive top 15 finishes in the spring, something no other Clemson golfer could claim.
The senior from Greenwood, SC is a veteran of 25 tournaments and 75 rounds, 28 of which have finished in rounds of par or better. He is on pace to become the first Clemson golfer to earn academic All-ACC honors four consecutive years.
Joining Martin in the senior class if Luke Hopkins. The native of Greer, SC played in four tournaments last year, but all four of those events were in the late spring when he played in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. His biggest contribution took place in the final round of the US Collegiate when he played his first nine holes at five under par and led the charge in Clemson’s greatest comeback victory in history. Clemson overcame a 13-stroke deficit on the final day to win a tournament that included each of the top 11 ranked teams in the nation. ” Luke has had a lot of injuries in his career,” said Penley. “Hopefully he is ready to play a complete season and be one of our leaders. He finished the year strong and was one of the positives of our appearance in the NCAA Tournament. “Hopkins was second among Clemson’s competitors at the NCAA Tournament at Galloway, NJ where he finished 27th out of the 156 golfers.
Hopkins is a veteran of 12 career tournaments for the Tigers and he knows what it is like to be in the winner’s circle. He won the 2007 South Carolina Amateur and the 2007 Palmetto Amateur. He had a strong run in the summer of 2009 as well, playing four consecutive bogey free rounds at one stretch. He reached the third round of South Carolina Match Play and had a top 25 at the Palmetto Amateur. He finished his summer strong with a 10th place finish at the South Carolina Amateur, the top finisher among active Clemson golfers.
Penley has three more returning lettermen on his 2009-10 roster, but they have played in just a combined six career events. Jacob Burger, a sophomore from Orangeburg, SC, was in the lineup for three tournaments last year, including the NCAA Preview. He had a 74.56 stroke average for his nine rounds, but finished with rounds of 72-71 at The Hootie. Burger has reached the second round of match play at the North-South Amateur at Pinehurst each of the last two years, and finished tied for 12th at the South Carolina Amateur this past August.
Alex Boyd and McCuen Elmore are two more returning lettermen who saw action in the Clemson lineup last year. Boyd played in two events and had a 76.50 average for six rounds. He played as an individual at The Brickyard and finished 21st with a strong 219 score. Elmore also played at the Brickyard for the Tigers and had a strong summer of 2009. He reached the Final Four of the South Carolina Match Play after finishing 11th in the 36-hole qualifier.
Six freshmen will vie for the considerable playing time up for grabs this year. Three are red-shirt freshmen and three are first-year freshmen. The red-shirt freshmen include Mike Muscatell, Mike Soowal.
Muscatell is a native of Lake Wylie, SC who was a two-time North Carolina state champion. He has gained considerable experience in amateur events over the last two years. He finished in the top 30 at the Azalea Amateur each of the last two years. Soowal is a two-time All-State player from Pennsylvania who is the son of former Clemson football player Jeff Soowal.
Bradshaw had a strong summer that shows he is ready to challenge for a starting position. He reached match play of both the South Carolina Match Play and the Carolinas Amateur. He had a six-under-par 136 at the Carolinas Amateur qualifier and finished 26th at the South Carolina Amateur.
Clemson’s three newcomers to the program are very highly regarded. Penley has played three first year freshmen before (1992, Nicky Goetze, Danny Ellis and Bobby Doolittle), so they will play with a sense of urgency when they reach campus.
Crawford Reeves is the most highly regarded of the freshman class for 2009. A two-time AJGA All-American, the native of Greenville won the South Carolina Match Play this past summer when he had a stellar 141 score in the qualifier then defeated five consecutive opponents, including Clemson teammates Bradshaw and Elmore. He also advanced to the second round of the Carolinas Amateur Match Play.
Kyle Stanley when it comes to driving distance, Mills reached stroke play of the US Public Links this past summer. He also advanced to the second round of South Carolina Match Play and finished 12th at the South Carolina Amateur. His final round 67 was the low score of the final round by any golfer, and the low round of the tournament by active Clemson golfers.
Will Ovenden of Spartanburg, SC had an active summer, playing in five amateur events. He finished 13th at the Festival of Flowers and also played in the Palmetto Amateur, Rice Planters and Carolinas Amateur. He made the cut at the South Carolina Amateur and finished tied for 31st.
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