Men's golf targets NCAA Championship
Gillespie, Barnes lead way as No. 10 Wildcats go for upset
With only two tournaments remaining, the No. 10 Arizona men's golf team is set to make a run at bringing the NCAA Championship title to Tucson.
The Wildcats, who are coming off a disappointing fifth place finish at the Pacific 10 Conference Championships, need to finish in the top eight at the NCAA West Regional in order to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
If the Wildcat's fail to finish in the top eight at the regionals, their only other hope to qualify will be as a wildcard.
"To us the regional can be the most important tournament of the season," assistant coach John Knauer said. "Your whole goal is to make it to the national tournament."
As for now, though, head coach Rick LaRose wants his players to focus on school rather than golf.
"Right now we are worried about exams and then with that done we will work hard on golf the rest of May," said LaRose.
Although the Wildcats are the No. 10 team in the nation, the coaching staff believes this season was a rebuilding year for the prestigious Arizona men's golf program.
"We had a lot of young guys and it was remolding season," LaRose said. "It was the start of a nucleus for the future."
All-American senior Derek Gillespie will be saying good-bye to Arizona golf, though, after this season. He has had six top-10 finishes this season, including a second place finish at the ASU Thunderbird/Savane Invitational.
Gillespie, the No. 18 golfer in the nation, is expected to turn pro after his season with Wildcats ends.
The senior All-American's first taste of professional play will be this summer when he heads to Canada to play in the World Amateur Championships.
"I think it will be a good experience," Gillespie said. "It will be fun to see what happens."
With the departure of Gillespie, the Wildcats will be left with a large void, not only on the course but off the course with the senior's influence on the younger members of the team.
"The leadership of Derek Gillespie will be missed in the future," LaRose said.
Replacing Gillespie as the leader of the team will be freshman Ricky Barnes, who was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and has had a solid year as he won two individual tournament titles - PING/Arizona Intercollegiate and Louisiana Classic.
"It was a good experience and it was nice associating myself with college golf," Barnes said. "I have been happy with my play."
Along with Barnes, freshmen Reid Hatley also grew into a solid player who will be groomed as a future leader of the young team.
"He has really developed well and he made a lot of progress," LaRose said. "Reid will be a very fine player."
Gillespie has also seen the progress in the freshman.
"He is a great player and he will be a good asset to the team," he said.
Even though it has been a rebuilding season for the Wildcats, LaRose believes that the team is going in the right direction.
"It's an exciting time," he said.
Kamy Shaygan can be reached at email@example.com.
hedder: Up Next
May 18-20, NCAA West Regionals, Fresno, Calif.
May 31-June 3, NCAA Championships, Auburn, Ala.