After a strong showing in the fall season – finishing each of their four tournaments in the top 5 – USF coach Chris Malloy and the No. 19 USF Men’s golf team are looking forward to another successful season, which tees off Friday at the Redstone Tournament Course in Humble, Tex.
A fair amount of the team’s success came off the club of sophomore Chase Koepka, who comes into the spring season ranked No. 5 in the country after four top 25 finishes, including two in the top 10.
Senior Richard James said having a teammate like Koepka helps the team improve.
“He gives us a great boost,” James said. “He pushes us to get better because we all want to beat him.”
At 20 years old, Koepka is one of the youngsters on the team, but his skills are far beyond his years, Malloy said.
Koepka even had a little added help from his brother Brooks, who is now playing professionally on the European PGA Tour.
With his brother as a mentor, Koepka knows the importance of having a strong role model, something he said he tries to add to the team.
“I just try to set a good example for them, practice wise or learning how to deal with situations,” Koepka said. “I’ve challenged myself to get better, showing these (freshmen) a little bit of the ropes because I have a feeling that a couple of these guys are going to be sitting in my position next year.”
Koepka, the 2012 Big East Player of the Year, had a solid fall campaign, but doesn’t let any of the hype get to his head. He stayed focused throughout the offseason by playing in both the Rice Planters and Players Amateurs tournaments – placing in the top 5 in both.
Koepka also qualified for U.S. Amateur at Brookline. With Malloy on the bag, Koepka was able to play against the best amateur golfers in the country, earning him a spot on the Ben Hogan Watch List for the top collegiate men’s golfer.
“It’d probably be the biggest thing I’ve ever accomplished,” Koepka said. “Just being named to the watch list was a big thing for me.”
At the beginning of the fall season there were many questions on how such a young team would react in adverse situations, Malloy said, but many of those questions were silenced once the players took to the course.
“We didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of this year,” Malloy said. “But if Chase or Richard doesn’t play well, one of these young guys finds a way to step up.”
A great program isn’t about finding one great player, but rather, adding depth to sustain great play, Malloy said, and the Bulls did that this season by receiving a mid-year transfer, junior Joseph Winslow.
Winslow, an All-American player from the University of Iowa, is a savvy player, Malloy said, with a high golf IQ that has come in to challenge for a playing spot, which he earned in the team’s first tournament this weekend, Malloy said.
With the team’s recent triumphs, they have a different mindset from past years. Since Malloy arrived, they have had to prove they are an elite team, and are beginning to receive the recognition that comes with success.
“People have always asked, ‘When are you going to be good?'” Malloy said. “I say we’re going to be good when we pull out with our top 5 guys and we leave a good player or two at home. We’re just now getting to that point.”
USF comes into the spring season in the top 20 in three different polls and has been steadily gaining ground since Malloy took over in 2010, when the Bulls were ranked near the low 200s.
A big part of this progression has been the addition of players like James, a junior college transfer from Wales, Malloy said.
As a senior, James sets the tone and is forced to lead by example, something he prides himself on.
“I feel like I have more responsibility than any of the others,” James said. “Especially with doing the right things on and off the course. I think the guys can learn from what I do.”
With aspirations of turning pro by the end of the year, James said he needs to work on the mental aspects of the game and staying patient when presented with a
With many individual goals met, the main goal for Malloy is championships. The Bulls were able to secure a Big East Tournament victory last spring and look to bring home the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship in April.
But for the seniors like James, it’s their last chance to bring home the coveted National Championship trophy.
“We’re ready to go,” James said. “We’re hungry, especially me in my last year. I want to win a national championship.”
USF competes Friday through Sunday with 14 other universities.