Sept. 27, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - Conrad Ray knows what it takes to compete for a national title in college golf. In his ninth year as the Knowles Family Director of Men's Golf at Stanford, the three-year letterwinner for the Cardinal was a member of Stanford's seventh NCAA Championship-winning squad in 1994 and led the 2007 team to an eighth championship. Coming off a year that didn't end as planned, the Cardinal begins this season motivated to finish strong.
"Last year was a good year," said Ray. "We were disappointed by how the NCAA tournament went, and we left with a bad taste in our mouth in some sense, which is a good motivator to make sure we make the most of NCAA's if we get back there again. We worked hard, and while we didn't get the results we wanted, we had a good group of guys who were committed to doing what needed to be done to win tournaments."
The No. 11 Cardinal (Golf Week) returns seven players from a team that recorded five top-three finishes and adds a pair of talented newcomers in David Boote and Dominick Francks. Boote, of Surrey, England and Francks from Olympia, Wash. will have a chance to crack the starting lineup immediately.
With second-team All-American Andrew Yun away at PGA Qualifying School, David Chung graduated and sophomore Marcel Puyat taking a year off, Ray doesn't have the depth he would like. Still, he and Enlight Foundation Assistant Coach Philip Rowe are excited about the team.
"We've got a lot of talent here, said Ray. "Patrick Rodgers
is one of the best players in the country, Patrick Grimes
is ready to go, Steve Kearney
played in the U.S. Amateur in San Diego, Shane Lebow
has had a good summer. David Boote
has had a really solid summer and we see him being a contributor right away. It's a leaner team than we usually have, but we have seven or eight guys who are ready to go. It gives guys who are a little further down in the lineup a shot to get more playing time."
Any discussion of Stanford golf last season almost certainly centered on Rodgers, a sophomore from Avon, Ind. Rodgers met the team in Illinois for the first tournament of the season, flying in from Europe at the conclusion of the Walker Cup. He became the first Stanford golfer since Tiger Woods to win his first collegiate tournament, leading the Cardinal to a team victory. Rodgers went on to win a second tournament, post 10 top-10 finishes, and was named first-team PING All-American, first-team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and was a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award. Rodgers will be counted on to set the tone for a squad determined not to be outworked this season.
"Patrick's a special talent, a special kid," said Ray. "By anyone else's estimation, he's played great this summer, but in his mind he can always play better. He has an insatiable work ethic, he loves the game and he loves to get better. He's established himself as one of the top players in the country, and we're excited to have him back."
Junior Cameron Wilson, recovering from a back injury, finished third on the team in stroke average last season (72.4). His return will bolster the top of the lineup and give the Cardinal a potent 1-2 punch with Rodgers. Wilson won the MGA 57th IKE this summer, carding rounds of 74-65-69 to win by a tournament record nine strokes.
Seniors Steve Kearney and Wilson Bowen return for their final season. Kearney, winner of the San Diego City tournament this summer and a qualifier for the U.S. Amateur, competed in eight events for Stanford last season. Bowen, a three-time letterwinner for the Cardinal, is back from a summer working with Project Walk in Nepal and provides a veteran presence on and off the course.
Shane Lebow competed in three events last season, including a fifth-place finish at the Sonoma State Invitational. The junior from Santa Barbara has the potential to crack the lineup on a regular basis this season.
Andre DeDecker competed in four events last season, finishing second at the Sonoma State Invitational. The junior from Cape Town, South Africa added a second-place finish over the summer at the San Jose City Amateur.
Sophomore Patrick Grimes competed in nine events as a freshman, tying for 10th at the Sonoma State Invitational and is poised to continue to improve on the course.
"Patrick Grimes was our most improved player last year," said Ray. "He played some good tournaments and will be looking to build on a good year. He played a lot for us and he's got the experience to be more consistent going forward. He could be very good for us."
Francks didn't get serious about golf until much later than his teammates, and the coaches are excited to tap into his natural abilities and take his game to the next level.
"We're really excited to have Dominick this season," said Ray. "He's brings a lot of energy, he's a great team guy, MVP of his basketball league in high school, but golf is his deal. I like athletes like that, and he fits the mold of someone who could be very successful at this level. He only started playing golf in seventh or eighth grade, which is late for this level and a testament to his work ethic and athleticism."
Boote, the captain of the victorious Great Britain & Ireland Junior team in 2011, brings a wealth of experience and the ability to compete immediately for a spot in the lineup. He won the Surrey County Colt Under-21 this summer by eight strokes in heavy wind and rain, tied for first at The Tillman Trophy and took first at the St. David's Gold Cross event.
"We're excited to add David to the lineup this season, said Ray. "He has great experience representing GB&I and the Welsh team and he's had a lot of success overseas. His game translates very well to the college game. He has great accuracy and is really good with the short clubs and the scoring clubs. He's got a solid work ethic and he's going to be a great add for us."
The season begins Sunday at Olympia Fields, a tournament the Cardinal won handily to begin last season. While a victory would be welcomed, the ability to see the season as time to prepare for the post-season is fundamental to finishing things the way the team would like.
"It's okay to take your licks early in the season, to go out and focus more on the process than the results," said Ray. "We put ourselves out there against the best competition on the best courses, and that accelerates the learning process. It's all preparation for that week in June."