One year ago this week, UL golf coach Theo Sliman took what he called “a bunch of young pups” to a season-opening tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss., and shockingly came back with a first-place trophy.
“It’s nice to be going back somewhere that they’ll introduce you as defending champions,” Sliman said this week as the Ragin’ Cajuns were holding qualifying rounds for the annual Sam Hall Intercollegiate hosted by Southern Mississippi. The UL squad won last year’s event by one stroke over Mississippi State in the 15-team field.
The Cajuns will once again open their season in the USM event Monday and Tuesday, departing on Saturday and playing a practice round Sunday. This time, though, it’s with a much more experienced squad — all five of the players from last year’s winning team remain on the UL roster and could be in the opening-round lineup, depending on the qualifying results.
“We should have some advantages with returning all of the starters,” Sliman said. “That’s the beauty of having a young team from last year. Expectations are obviously higher, but yet they’re realistic. This team is very capable of meeting those expectations.”
The fivesome that captured last September’s USM title included a freshman and four sophomores, and that group played intact for virtually the entire fall and spring season. What’s more impressive is that all five still have at least two years of college eligibility left. The team’s only senior is a newcomer, highly regarded Adelphi transfer and Division II All-America selection Louis Kelly.
“Any time you have a senior transfer in, there’s big expectations of him playing right away,” Sliman said. “Louis is a very accomplished player, he played in the Division II national tournament as an individual.”
Kelly and freshman signee Paul San of Malaysia – the son of a then-USL graduate and holder of a top-900 world amateur ranking while still a junior player – are the primary new faces that will be trying to crack a solid lineup. Sliman said that having competition for playing spots is a problem he likes having.
“We’ve had six qualifying rounds of par or better by six different players,” he said. “So the depth is there … we’re going to have more competition in qualifying at home, which hopefully will breed more competition and success on the road.”
The returning group includes Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year Fernando Cruz Valle, who had four top-five individual finishes in his first collegiate season and finished fourth in the league meet.
“The numbers show what he did for us last year,” Sliman said. “Our hope is that in the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, he’s become more consistent. We know our talent level … we’re returning five starters that beat some top-10 programs last year, but what hurt us was a lack of consistency.”
If the summer was any indication, the foursome returning as juniors should be solid. Thomas Strandemo, an All-Sun Belt pick as a sophomore, made it to the match-play round at the U.S. Public Links and posted a competitive-event record at The Wetlands (63) to qualify for that event. Haraldur Magnus, another all-league pick, reached the quarterfinals of the British Amateur where he lost to the eventual champion, in effect getting within two matches of grabbing a spot in The Masters.
Ross Davis had a top-five finish in the State Amateur, while Christian Verrougstraete bypassed most of the summer events to work on his game at his Reunion Island home with his long-time instructor.
“These guys all have a couple of years of experience and had good summers,” Sliman said. “Last year they played every event, so we’re not lacking for experience.”
The Monday-Tuesday event at USM will give an early indication, but Sliman likes his team’s chances on the Hattiesburg Country Club course. The Cajuns have fared well in that event even before last year’s 15-under-par score, going nine-under as a team in 2010 and eight-under in 2011.
“It has a lot of the characteristics of Oakbourne, where our guys are used to playing,” he said. “It gives them a little bit of comfort there. It demands patience, but it’s very scoreable if you’re patient. That’s something this team has really bought into.”
The Cajuns were using Oakbourne for practice Tuesday morning, which is also a change. With the large number of upperclassmen on the roster – players who have higher-level classes which fall mostly in the afternoons – their schedules worked out so that Tuesday and Thursday team practices are in the morning hours.
“That helps for a lot of reasons,” Sliman said. “It’s better for the courses since it’s not as crowded and we’re not taking time from the members, and we’re not fighting the afternoon thunderstorms that you get so much here. It’s also fun in that I get to be a normal dad on some Tuesdays and Thursdays and have dinner with the family.”
CONDOLENCES: The Acadiana golf community lost one of its biggest supporters last week when Bill Brodnax passed away after a lengthy illness.
Brodnax came to Lafayette in 1965 and quickly immersed himself in the community, and his love of golf became a big part of that. He served as president of Oakbourne Country Club for a stretch and was a huge supporter of junior golf both in and out of that club. He spent many an hour organizing and developing programs to grow the game among kids.
He and wife Rae were involved in the Louisiana Open almost from its inception and housed many of those professionals who were trying to get started in their golfing career.
Brodnax was an Oklahoma graduate, but became a UL alumni by choice, and what’s now the Ragin’ Cajun program’s Louisiana Classics tournament probably wouldn’t have the stature of one of the South’s top events had it not been for his help in the early years.
A memorial service is today at 4 p.m. at Ascension Episcopal Church on Johnston Street. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic at 1375 Jefferson St.
AUSTIN WINS: Former LSU standout Austin Ernst claimed her first LPGA Tour victory over the past weekend, claiming the title at the Portland Classic on the first hole of a playoff with veteran I. K. Kim.
The 22-year-old Ernst, who played two seasons for the Tigers and won the NCAA individual title in 2011, shot a 5-under 67 in the final round to finish at 14-under after opening at 69-69-69. She was the only player in the field with four sub-70 rounds.
Ernst led by two after 16 holes Sunday before missing the last two greens and taking two bogeys to slip into the playoff. On the first hole, though, she rolled a 35-foot putt to within 18 inches for a tap-in par while Kim missed an eight-footer after chipping up.
Ernst had finished ninth at the Portland event on the same Columbia Edgewater course one year earlier.
RYDER CUP: It was already official even before Tuesday evening when U.S. Ryder Cup team captain Tom Watson announced his three captain’s selections, but Baton Rouge’s Patrick Reed will give Louisiana golf fans a rooting interest for the first time in almost a decade.
Reed finished eighth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team points standings announced after the PGA Championship three weeks ago. The top nine – Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Speith, Reed and Zach Johnson – earned an automatic slot.
Watson added Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson Tuesday evening to the all-star U.S. team that will take on the European squad Sept. 26-28 at the famed Gleneagles Resort in Scotland.
Reed had gone into the PGA seventh on the points list, and was projected to make the team as long as he made the cut. He did that and eventually finished tied for 59th at the PGA, slipping one spot thanks to Mickelson’s big charge to a runner-up spot at the PGA. He is the first Louisiana native to make the Ryder Cup team since David Toms’ final appearance in 2006.
USSSA JUNIOR TOUR: Roberto Espinosa of Arnaudville and Ashton Crochet of New Iberia had high finishes among Acadiana-area golfers over the weekend in the USSSA Junior Golf Tour’s Back-2-Schoo Two tournament at Tamahka Trails in Marksville.
Espinosa finished fifth in the boys 12-14 division with a 93-94–187 score, while Crochet finished eighth in the boys 15-18 division with an 89-84–173 total.
The tour makes its next outing locally in the annual Mizuno Junior Mike’ Open, scheduled Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 20-21 at the Farm d’Allie. That event is open to boys and girls ages 9-18 in three age groups, with the boys age 12-14 and 15-18 and the girls 12-14 and 15-18 groups playing 18 holes daily and the boys and girls 9-11 playing nine holes daily.
Entry fee is $160 for the two older groups and $90 for the age 9-11 group, all players must be registered with the USSSA, and deadline to enter is 10 p.m. today. More information on the event and the USSSA Tour available from Robert Boudreaux at 278-8431 or at Robert.Boudreaux@usssa.com.
FORE LIFE: The annual Justin Harrison “Golf Fore Life” Tournament is set for Monday, Oct. 13, at a new location at Le Triomphe. The tournament raises funds and awareness for organ donation and for the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA).
The scramble is named after Justin Harrison, whose tragic death 17 years ago gave life to five organ recipients and restored sight to two others through cornea transplants. Funds raised go to promoting the message of the importance of organ donation.
Entry fee is $200 per player or $600 per three-person team and cash prizes will be awarded in gross and net divisions. Entry deadline is Oct. 10 and entries and more information are available from Libbie Harrison at 349-1574 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or Suzanna Morton at (256) 724-2255 and email@example.com.
BILL BASS OPEN: All area courses now have entry brochures and other locations will soon have the same information for the Bill Bass Open, UL’s annual Homecoming tournament that serves as a fundraiser for the Ragin’ Cajun golf team and the Bill Bass Endowed Scholarship. The tournament is Friday, Oct. 31, one day before UL’s Nov. 1 Homecoming game against South Alabama.
The tournament is once again at Les Vieux Chenes and will have 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. shotgun starts to allow all golfers and Cajun fans the opportunity to participate. Handicaps will again be used to allow an equal opportunity for all teams. Approximately 40 four-person scramble teams took part in last year’s tournament and another large field is expected for this year.
Entry fee is again $125 for individuals or $500 for teams, and players may make up their own four-person teams. In addition to the entry forms, online entries will also be available in the near future and players may pay online with a credit card. More information about the Bill Bass Open is available at 857-8754.
(“Making the Turn” appears each Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at firstname.lastname@example.org, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.)