Friday, September 7, 2007
Vincent chooses Blue Devils over Bruins
By Ryan Herrington
Since heading cross country from UCLA to Duke last June in the surprise men's coaching change of the summer, O.D. Vincent has gotten any number of calls and e-mails from well-wishers. While just 39 and a golf coach for little more than a decade, Vincent is among the most respected in his profession. The conversations, then, typically began along the lines, "Congrats on the new job. You'll do great out East," before touching on the quandary Vincent truly faced: "Can't believe, though, you left such a talented team in Westwood."
Indeed, the 2007-08 Bruins return all five starters from a squad that finished seventh at the 2007 NCAA Championship. Moreover, they add Philip Francis, the 2006 U.S. Junior champ and AJGA player of the year, to the fold this fall, explaining their No. 5 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' preseason poll.
"Emotionally, it was the most difficult decision I've had to make professionally, for sure," says Vincent, who ultimately figured North Carolina's less-stressful economic environment for raising his family was too much to pass up. "With the group of players that we'd put together, I was very much looking forward to coaching there. That's difficult on me. It's never any fun. It comes with the job, though."
The job now is to take a solid Blue Devils squad and provide an additional spark after an emotional year in which the team dealt with the death last March of long-time coach Rod Myers, a staple in Durham, N.C., for 34 years. Anchored by senior Michael Schachner, who made headlines by shooting a 60 at last year's NCAA Championship, and sophomore Adam Long (72.9 average, six top-25s), the Blue Devils had one win and six top-fives last year while finishing T-13 at nationals. They begin the 2007-08 campaign at this week's Topy Cup in Japan ranked 17th in the preseason poll.
Vincent has experience at lifting programs to the next level. After graduating from Washington in 1991 and briefly playing professional golf, he took over the coaching reins at his alma mater and led the Huskies to their best NCAA finish, fourth in 1999. Upon taking the top job at UCLA in fall 2002, Vincent had the Bruins finishing in the top 10 at nationals four of five years and winning two Pac-10 titles while he earned conference coach-of-the-year honors for a second (2003) and third time (2006).
"He will definitely bring a strong winning attitude," notes Clemson coach Larry Penley, among the rival ACC coaches watching Vincent's transition closely. Georgia's Chris Haack similarly notes: "O.D. is going to bring a whole different energy and excitement."
Already an impressive recruiter, Vincent has a top-notch course and newly built, state-of-the-art practice facility to sell to junior golfers. It's more of an on-campus feel than UCLA had to offer, providing "a couple more tools for his toolbox," contends Stanford's Conrad Ray.
As he begins his first stint outside the Pac-10, however, Vincent will proceed with caution. "You don't just replace a person like Rod Myers," he says. "Plus, every place is unique and has its own sensitivities. One of the things I tried to do too much of at UCLA was bring too much of the University of Washington [there]. So I'm going to sit back and try to understand the players and their histories and their goals and the environment here."
Working in his favor is that the three-time NCAA defending champion Duke women's team already have developed a road map for balancing on-course accomplishments with difficult academic standards. "That's a very motivating thing for me, to see all the success the women's team has had consistently, year after year," says Vincent, who also points to Stanford's victory at the men's NCAAs in June as proof you can have success in the classroom as well as the golf course.
"We've got our hands full," Vincent admits, having finally gotten to meet some of his players just days before flying to Japan. "We need to make sure we're working on the right things and developing the right habits. But everyone I've talked to is pretty hungry and pretty excited to get started. They feel like they've got a real good group of guys and can be competitive."
The Fab Five
The top five teams right now in the country:
Despite losing Zack Miller and Matt Savage, the defending national champions have great depth with All-Americans Rob Grube, Joseph Bramlett and Daniel Lim and talent with incoming freshmen Sihwan Kim and Steve Ziegler. The Cardinal are trying to become the first repeat NCAA winner since Houston in 1984-85.
The Crimson Tide loses no starters from last year's team that was ranked No. 1 for much of the year. Coach Jay Seawell says the group learned a lot after a disappointing final day at NCAAs last June. Michael Thompson and Mark Harrell provide great leadership, and Joseph Sykora is already off to great start after winning medalist honors at the Topy Cup.
While the headlines usually fall on national player of the year Jamie Lovemark, the Trojans also have sophomore Rory Hie (71.97 average) and junior Tom Glissmeyer (72.53 average) to provide additional fire power. Incoming freshman Tom Sluiter, from the Netherlands, helped the Dutch win the World Amateur Team Championship last October in South Africa.
The Bruins have everyone back except head coach, O.D. Vincent. Derek Freeman should provide continuity for All-American caliber players Kevin Chappell, Erik Flores, James Lee and Lucas Lee. The addition of 2006 U.S. Junior champion Philip Francis will make arguably the deepest team in the country even deeper.
All-American Billy Horschel anchors a Gator squad that surprised some a year ago with solid play from a young nucleus. Senior Manuel Villegas had a hot start and could provide great spark with more consistent play. Same goes for sophomore Tim McKenney. Freshman Arnond "Bank" Vongvanij is a talent to keep an eye on.
Blue Devils aim for a record-breaking fourth straight NCAA title while junior Amanda Blumenherst has a record-breaking three straight player-of-the-year award in her sights. Time to see just how vital a cog Anna Grzebien (graduation) was for Duke.
2. Arizona State
A painful finish at NCAAs (13th) after a stellar season is something the Sun Devils will have to recover from. All the key players (Anna Norqvist, Jennifer Osborn, Azahara Munoz) are back, however, to give Duke a run for its money.
The Bruins meshed throughout last season ultimately finishing third at nationals. Tiffany Joh offer experience at the top of the line-up while incoming freshman Maria Jose Uribe, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion, will give the team yet another reliable player to count on.
First-team All-American Paola Moreno returns and Spanish sensation Belen Mozo is on campus for the full year. The Trojans also welcome Joanne Lee and Lizette Salas, only increasing their depth.
Maria Hernandez, last year's Big Ten player of the year, and Christel Boeljon, runner-up at nationals, are back for their junior seasons as the Boilermakers set out to become the first non-southern school to win a national title.
Stat of the Week
2: Number of double eagles VCU's Mark Jargren made during his team's qualifying for this week's Scenic City Invitational. The freshman from Helsingborg, Sweden holed his second shot with a 5-iron on the 494-yard second hole at The Country Club of Virginia's Westhampton Course on Monday. The next day he holed a 3-wood on the 542-yard 10th hole. Suffice it to say, he earned a spot on the traveling team and will make his official collegiate debut this weekend.
What to Watch For
• So much for easing into the start of the season. At next week's Mason Rudolph Women's Championship, hosted by Vanderbilt, 10 of the top 11 teams in the country in the Golf World/NGCA preseason coaches' poll will be in the field (the only missing squad is Pepperdine). It's the one time we'll see all these schools together until the NCAA Championship next May, and then only if we're lucky and they all advance.
"It will give everybody a chance to see where they stand," said Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen. "I think it's great."
• With all the coaching changes this past summer, particularly on the women's side, there will be a lot of getting-to-know-you-sessions going on in the coming weeks. How teams fare in the fall will be influenced largely on how long the acclimation process takes. Perhaps this is where the likes of Shauna Estes at Arkansas and Shelly Haywood at Arizona might have an advantage. While taking over the head coaching duties, being assistant coaches at their respective school keeps the transition time from being to onerous.
Consider that at Arizona, Haywood already saw her two senior leaders, Alison Walshe and Mary Jacobs reach out to make the change as easy as possible.
"They have come to me and said 'Shelly, we'll help you. You've got us.' I'm trying to figure out who to hire as an assistant and Mary said, 'Shelly, we'll help you.' For them to step up and say that. That's what you need."
Tournament to Watch
Men: Midwest Shootout
When: Sept. 8
Where: Kampen Course, West Lafayette, Ind.
Field: Arizona, Bowling Green, Dayton, Eastern Illinois, George Mason, IUPUI, Kent State, Loyola, Michigan, Missouri, Northern Illinois, Oakland, Purdue, Rice, SMU, Western Illinois
Defending champion: New event
Skinny: For teams concerned about the .500 rule, a few new events have been scheduled bringing together a "diverse" assortment of teams that can help a team improve its record. This one-day, 36-hole event is among them. With the Kampen Course also hosting the NCAA Championship next spring, it isn't much of a surprise that a team with Arizona's marquee value would make the trip and we're guessing that this is the first time the Wildcats and IUPUI have been in the same field in a regular-season tournament.
Women: Cougar Classic
When: Sept. 10-11
Where: Yeaman's Hall, Hallahan, S.C.
Field: Alabama, Charleston, Florida State, Furman, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Mississippi, Mississippi State, North Carolina, N.C. State, UNC-Greensboro, Notre Dame, Penn State, Richmond, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M
Defending champion: Florida State (nine-over 873); Lauren Hunt, North Carolina (six-under 210)
Skinny: Twelve of the 20 teams in the field played at NCAA regionals last spring, with seven finished in the top 30. Texas and Texas A&M compete for the first time, giving the event more of a national flavor says College of Charleston coach Jamie Futrell. Another addition to the line-up is in-state rival South Carolina.
For more reporting on college golf from Golf World senior writer Ryan Herrington, visit his Campus Insider blog.