2003: Denver climbs out of dumps
Going “0-fer” is not a lot of fun.
At some point in their careers, most athletes experience some sort of stretch – hopefully a short one – when they run into a skid of going zero for whatever.
Imagine a college golf team that goes 0-fer – not only not winning a tournament, but not winning at all. In other words, not beating a single opponent in any of its events.
That’s the way it was for the University of Denver during the 1999-2000 season. The Pioneers finished with an overall record of 0-114 – last in every event they played. Their final spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings that season was No. 228.
It was a rough first year for Denver coach Eric Hoos, who took over in August – a few weeks before the season – and had to field a team with the players on hand.
“That first year was as frustrating as it gets,” said Hoos. “I’m a very competitive person by nature, and I hated losing. After that season I gave serious thought to ending my coaching career.”
Hoos stuck it out, brought in some better players and began to gain support from school officials and the local community. Now in his fourth season, he has molded the Pioneers into one of the most respected up-and-coming programs in the country.
“Our (school) president Dan Richey and our athletic director Diane Murphy have been extremely supportive of the golf program, and that is a big lift,” Hoos said. “We’ve also gotten a lot of the local people behind us, especially Ron Moore, who played golf here and has helped us greatly financially.”
While golf has been a part of the school’s athletic program since 1924, it was cut in 1971 and not reinstated as a varsity sport until ’86. The golf program is now in its third Division I season.
In Hoos’ second season, Denver had a 65-71-2 overall record and a final Golfweek/Sagarin ranking of 130th. Last season, the Pioneers were 96-49-1, were ranked 81st and even beat two top-50 teams.
This season, the Pioneers are really making people take notice. During the fall, Denver won the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate, had two seconds, a third and a sixth and finished No. 35 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
In their first four starts this spring, the Pioneers have a second, two fourths and a seventh, and through April 14, they ranked 49th. More impressively, they have a 117-30 overall record, including a respectable 3-4 mark against top-25 teams.
After the 1999-2000 season, all Denver wanted to do was beat somebody – anybody. Now, as the Pioneers prepare for the Sunbelt Conference Championships April 21-23, the stakes are much higher.
“Each year we get closer and closer (to NCAA postseason play),” said Hoos, who was an assistant coach under Mark Simpson at Colorado for two years prior to taking over at Denver. “We’ve come a long way in the last three years, but we have to continue to get better.
“At the start of the season I felt we could play with the top teams. Our goal at the start of the season was to get to nationals. This year I really think it’s a realistic goal. I truly believe that when we are clicking on all cylinders, we can give most teams a good run.”
As individuals, Hoos’ players are hardly world beaters. Shawn Wills, a senior from Broomfield, Colo., is the top Pioneer in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings at No. 121. He’s followed by sophomore Barrett Jarosch (No. 280), freshman James Love (No. 338), junior Jimmy Cunningham (No. 351), senior Tommy Hart (No. 424) and senior Tony Giarratano (No. 437).
“We don’t have that one powerhouse player, but what we do have are six solid players who are all pretty equal,” said Hoos, who played college golf for Arkansas and in 1991 captured the Nike Tour’s Wichita Charity Classic. “For us to be successful we have to have everyone playing well at the same time. We can’t depend on one or two players to carry us. This is a team effort. But this is a team of hard workers who are determined to succeed.”
Don’t be too surprised if, when the fields for the NCAA postseason regionals are announced, the University of Denver makes its first-ever appearance.
Wouldn’t that be something, especially coming from a program that only three short years ago was 0-fer.