1996-97 USC Men's Golf Preview
With two Top 10 men's team finishes in his first two years at USC, third-year director of golf Kurt Schuette is on quite a roll. That momentum and a wealth of talented players figure to carry the 1996-97 Trojans back into that upper echelon of collegiate golf . . . this time, maybe all the way to the top.
"I think we can contend for the national championship," said Schuette, who spent six successful years at Pepperdine before coming to Troy.
His optimism stems from the return of USC's top five players from last season and the influx of two supremely talented newcomers. It's a lineup that not only will be highly competitive against the opposition, but also among themselves, considering the team's tremendous depth, which is as good as any squad in the nation.
This season, the Trojans once again are led by their "Triple Threat" lineup of seniors Chad Wright, Roger Tambellini and Brian Hull.
"I think our top three will be one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the country," Schuette said. "They are all potential All-Americans."
Wright and Tambellini were key members of both the 1994-95 squad, which reached its peak in the post-season and made a strong run at the NCAA Championship before finishing in fifth (Troy's highest finish in 20 years), and last year's team that wound up in ninth and served notice to the rest of the collegiate golf world that the Trojans are on the verge of something special.
Hull, who joined the team last season after transferring from UC Santa Barbara, won his first tournament as a Trojan (at the USA vs. Japan "Topy Cup"), ended up as USC's top performer and earned All-America first-team honors. He played in all 50 rounds of competition for the Trojans last year, averaged 72.8 strokes and had a low round of 65.
"Brian is coming off a phenomenal year," Schuette said. "He's one of the most intelligent and hardest working players I've ever coached."
Wright, Troy's top player in 1993-94 and 1994-95, is back for his fourth year and appears to be on his way to another great season.
"Chad has shown great improvement in his short game over the summer which has made him a much more consistent scorer," Schuette said. "I call him the silent assassin. Chad doesn't say much. He's really quiet, but he is extremely competitive. There is a lot of fire that burns inside of him that you don't see from the outside."
Two years ago, Wright capped off the season by finishing in a fifth place tie (with Stanford's Tiger Woods and Arizona State's Joey Snyder) at the NCAA Championships. His simple and consistent swing led him to a 75.0 stroke average in 1995-96. And Wright led USC at the 1996 NCAAs with a four-round total of 306.
Tambellini has played in all 30 of USC's tournaments in the past two years, establishing himself as a solid collegiate player. He led the Trojans with a third-place finish at last season's NCAA West Regional and his 1995-96 stroke average of 74.0 was second best on the team.
"Roger was the most improved player on the team last year," Schuette said. "He'll play a key role in our attempt to win a national championship. He will contend for Pac-10 and All-American honors."
By no means does USC's talent pool run dry after the "Triple Threat."
Two sophomores, Jorge Corral and Charlie Woerner, and two freshmen, Nick Webb and Mike Berg, are the leading candidates to fill out the rest of USC's travel roster.
Corral and Woerner combined to play in 28 tournaments last year, including the Pac-10 Championships, NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships. Corral finished the year with a 75.3 stroke average, while Woerner checked in at 75.8.
Webb, a freshman from Turlock, Calif., was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country last year and has already made a huge impression this season. At this fall's Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in Birmingham, Ala., Webb led the Trojans to a third-place finish, while placing fifth in the individual competition (214) with a low round of 69.
Berg, who redshirted last season, is a solid player with a lot of raw talent. He was the runner-up at the 1995 SCGA High School Championships. Once Berg gets some collegiate experience under his belt, he should be a key component on the Trojan squad.
"The sophomores and freshmen bring a long list of accomplishments," Schuette said. "It's just a matter of how quickly they adjust to playing at a little higher level of collegiate golf. We lack some maturity and experience with some of the young guys, but if we can season them quickly and they can learn a lot in the first three to five months of the year, I think by the end of the season we could be considerably better than we were last year."
Schuette also has the additional luxury of having three other returning players from last season, junior Zach Allen, and seniors Jaycy Igarashi and Mark Nicoletti, and one more freshman, Matt McCrite from Westlake Village, Calif., to call upon.
"I can see us winning some tournaments, hopefully playing our best golf at the end of the season and contending for a national championship again as we have for the past two seasons," Schuette said.
And maybe this time, they'll come back to Troy with USC's first-ever golf national championship.