Sept. 19, 2000
By Tim Bourret Sports Information DirectorWake Forest Game Program – September 16, 2000
The Clemson golf team returns three All-Americans to its starting five. Two of the three have been first-team All-Americans at one point or another in their respective careers. The one player in that threesome who has not been a first-team selection will play in the Master’s next April.
That is the best documentation of the talent level Larry Penley has in his lineup as he enters his 18th season as Clemson head coach. In the first 17 he has won 45 tournaments, including four NCAA Regional titles and six ACC Championships, including three of the last four.
Last year his team won three tournaments against strong fields and his club was under par for a school-record nine straight events and 10 of 12. The squad finished second and third in the respective final major college golf polls and concluded the season with a fourth straight top 10 NCAA Tournament finish, something no Clemson program has done since the 1980-83 era.
What does he do for an 18th encore? Make an 18th straight NCAA Tournament and challenge for the National Championship according to the preseason prognosticators. Both Golf World Magazine and the College Golf Foundation list Clemson as the preseason national number-one team in the nation.
“We are a very solid team at the one-two-three spots, as good as any in the country,” said Penley, who once played as an All-ACC golfer on the Clemson team in the early 1980s.
The only questionmark surrounding the team is replacing four-time first-team All-ACC golfer Jonathan Byrd. Out of all the athletes in Clemson history, he is the only one to be a first, second or third-team All-American on the field of play and in the classroom in the same year, twice. That speaks volumes of his abilities and his leadership.
“It gets harder and harder to see these guys go,” said Penley. “We will miss Jonathan’s stability, his consistent play and leadership. But, we have to move on and it is an opportunity for our seniors to step up into that leadership role. I have already seen evidence of that. John Engler, Lucas Glover and Jani Saari realize they have to show the younger players what it takes to be successful.”
When you talk about the top of the Clemson lineup you really have to consider it as a two-headed monster. It is virtually impossible to separate the success John Engler have had in their first three years at Clemson.
“Both have been first-team All-Americans, both have been two-time All-ACC, both are at the top of our scoring average list.
“John and Lucas have seen a lot already. They were starters on our 1998 team that finished second in the nation. Then they were on a team (1999) that had the lead at the NCAAs after 36 holes their sophomore years. Last year they were disappointed in our team’s performance at the NCAAs in that we really didn’t challenge for the National Championship.
“They both told me after we finished second in 1998 that they were going to win it before they left Clemson. Their time has come,” said Penley with a chuckle.
Glover had the top stroke average on the Clemson team last year with a 71.24 figure, best in Clemson history. He had 25 rounds at par or better, second best on the Clemson record books, and he finished the year with a number eight national ranking by the Sagarin ratings and was seventh by MasterCard.
Glover, who is good friends with current Tiger football players Kyle Young, Will Merritt and Chad Speck, (all of whom travelled to tournaments last spring to watch the Tigers play), was a first-team All-American last year. He is ranked number-two in the nation in the MasterCard preseason individual rankings for this year after an outstanding summer. He won the South Carolina Amateur for the third straight year, the only person in history to do that.
Engler was a second team All-American last year and ranked ninth in the nation by MasterCard and 12th by Sagarin. His 71.33 stroke average last year was second on the Clemson team, but third best in school history. Entering his senior year, his 72.10 career stroke average is best on the Clemson record books. He is also in the top five in school history in rounds under par, round at par or better and rounds in the 60s. He and Glover will break those existing all-time records this year.
D.J. Trahan is a sophomore who had a record breaking freshman year, capped only by an incredible summer. Trahan had a 72.48 stroke average, a Clemson freshman record, and was ranked 22nd in the nation in the final MasterCard ratings, the second highest freshman rating in the nation. He was Clemson’s top golfer at the NCAAs with a 282 score, good enough for 15th in the event.
He trumped those accomplishments by winning the United States Public Links Championship in July. With the trophy comes an automatic invitation to the Master’s in April. “D.J. had the most glamorous summer of our golfers,” said Penley. “Winning the US Public Links shows D.J.’s mental toughness. He is an awesome ball striker. But, there is room for improvement. He knows he can become a more consistent player and improve his short game.”
One golfer who has the short game is senior Jani Saari, who figures to be in the Clemson starting lineup this year. Saari is the consistent player who is always a counter in the lineup. Clemson fans saw that last year when his score counted all four days of the NCAA Tournament at Auburn. He finished with an even par 288. He finished 23rd at the NCAAs in 1999. Saari has been a member of three Clemson top 10 teams, so he knows what it takes.
There will be a battle for the fifth spot in Clemson’s starting lineup. Ben Duncan is the front runner and has the most experience. The native of Inman, SC played in four events last year and had a 75.17 average. But, a strong summer and strong play in the first weeks of school had him in the lineup in Clemson’s opening tournament.
Red-shirt freshmen Gregg Jones, the South Carolina Amateur Match Play Champion, along with classmates Matt Hendrix and Michael Sims, also figure to be in the picture. Upperclassmen Tripp James and Brennen King will also challenge for playing time.
Again, Clemson faces a challenging schedule. Every tournament includes at least 8-10 top 20 teams. Among the highlights will be Clemson’s appearance in the Ping Preview, which will be held at the Duke University Course in Durham, NC. That is also the site of the 2001 NCAA Championships. Clemson is ranked number-one now and hopes to be when it steps off the Duke course on June 3.
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