By Russ Kupperstien
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday November 8, 2002
The Arizona men's golf team begins its final contest of the fall today in the GCAA Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
With the quality of play Arizona has shown of late, the team is expecting a top finish.
Arizona will open with a first-round match against No. 21 Pepperdine today in the team's fall season finale.
Junior Chris Nallen has finished in the top 10 individually in three out of four tournaments played this season.
Nallen won his last tournament, October 14-15 in Birmingham, Ala., by finishing 7-under-par at the Jerry Pate National. Nonetheless, senior Ricky Barnes, who was in Malaysia, was unavailable to play, and Arizona fell into a tie for sixth.
"I went into that tournament thinking ÎIf we can finish right in the middle, about sixth, we'd be pretty happy with ourselves,'" assistant coach John Knauer said. "Nallen played real well and finished up top. We really competed, even without Barnes."
The last chance Barnes had to swing with the team was when he shot a 1-over-par and finished in ninth place at the NCAA Preview. Unfortunately, Nallen was off that same day, dropping behind Arizona golfers Reid Hatley and freshman Blaine Peffley for a 49th-place tie. Arizona wound up in third, behind Augusta State and Clemson, by the end of the tournament.
If they want to win, the Wildcats will need consistent top-10 efforts from both Nallen and Barnes. Barnes said he recognized the two have completely different tendencies and golfing philosophies, yet the same goal in mind and the same responsibility to shoulder.
"I'm a little more loose and aggressive, and he's a little more uptight, swing-oriented. He's very mechanical," Barnes said. "But we both need to come through big time."
Barnes has said Arizona "hadn't played its best golf" this fall season and pointed to the GCAA Match Play as a moment to step up. Barnes fully expects his team to win, though to do so it will need a third golfer to pull out a strong even-par performance.
It's likely Reid Hatley will contribute most as that third golfer. Over his last four rounds of play, between the Jerry Pate and NCAA Preview in the month of October, Hatley has gone 73-71-67-72 to shoot 3-under-par. That is an emerging trait of consistency in the senior that wasn't present early in the season.
"When Barnes is on and Chris is on and Reid is on, I really feel like we can win," Knauer said. "We're going to be pretty unstoppable."
Junior Andy Connell's scores may also be a big boost to Arizona's placement at the Dye Course. Connell led the Arizona junior varsity win at the 49er Collegiate Classic last weekend by finishing in second place individually with a 6-under-par 210. He will no doubt be entering will no doubt be entering the tournament with a great deal of added confidence, which may aid his short-game on the course, a fairly confidence-oriented side to the game.
Peffley's play at Jerry Pate caught his coaches' and teammates' attention when he shot 72-73, much more controlled numbers than his 76 at Carpet Capital and 79 at the NCAA Preview.
"I think he's coming into his own," Barnes said. "He's going to be a good player for us, hopefully in this tournament and in the spring. I'll talk to him a little bit, try to build up his confidence, and let him know that we need him on our team."
So far this season, coaches and players alike seem to be feeling they've left a lot of shots out on the course that were makeable. The team knows it has underachieved as far as talent is concerned, and it hasn't had all of its weapons operating together or on the same level yet this season.
The players said there are no more excuses for this weekend's event.