Balicki: Catlin, Lobos exceed expectations

New Mexico's John Catlin

New Mexico's John Catlin

When the 2011-12 season began, not many college men’s golf observers gave much thought to New Mexico or Lobos junior John Catlin.

The team wasn’t among the top 30 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, and Catlin was not among the 30 players listed as a predicted first-, second-, or third-team All-American.

Not much of a surprise. New Mexico had not finished in the top 25 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings since it ended the 2004-05 season at No. 5, the program’s best-ever showing. In 2010-11, the Lobos finished the season ranked 68th.

As for Catlin, he was just another face in the college crowd. As a freshman, he finished 176th in the final individual rankings; last season, he tumbled to No. 349.

This season, however, Catlin and the Lobos appear ready to prove they once belong in the upper echelon of college golf. New Mexico is ranked No. 25 as a team and Catlin is No. 17.

“It wasn’t like we played poorly last year; we just didn’t play as well during the second half of the spring,” said Glen Millican, now in his 11th season in Albuquerque. “We’ve put that behind us.

“I felt like we had a good, strong team going into the fall. “I’m pleased with the way the guys have performed so far, and (we) feel we can be a top-25 team and hopefully do well in the postseason.”

So far, so good.

The Lobos finished in the top 5 in each of their five fall starts, including a victory at the Lone Star Invitational in San Antonio. They opened the spring season two weeks ago with a solid third at the Arizona Intercollegiate.

Much of that success can be attributed to Catlin, who had four top 10s in the fall, including a second place at the Mark Simpson CU Invitational. His lone non-top 10 was a tie for 11th at New Mexico’s Tucker Invitational.

But it was his opening spring start in Tucson that really got people’s attention. With rounds of 66-70-67, Catlin notched his first collegiate victory, shooting 10-under-par 203 and winning by three strokes over Arizona junior Juan Pablo Hernandez.

“I’ve had chances (to win) in the past, and to finally finish it off is awesome,” Catlin said. “Getting my first college win feels nice, and hopefully it will give me something positive to go on the rest of the spring.”

Catlin’s success is not a surprise to Millican.

“He came (to New Mexico) after a good junior career, especially in the Northern California area,” Millican said. “He’s gotten better each year. He has a great attitude and really believes in what he’s doing. He’s got a very good short game, and when he gets the putter going, can really shoot some low numbers.

“He knows there is always room for improvement, and he continually works hard to improve. I think everyone on the team looks up to him. In the end, though, he’s still John Catlin, a down-to-earth, fun-to-be-around guy.”

While Catlin leads the Lobos’ attack, he also has a strong supporting cast, one that saw Millican play 11 different players in the fall.

Redshirt junior James Erkenbeck, ranked No. 70, had four top-20 showings in the fall, including a second at the Tucker, and tied for fifth at the Arizona Intercollegiate.

A pair of freshmen have stepped up as well. Victor Perez had two fall top 10s, tying for ninth at the Simpson and Lone Star events, and Gavin Green notched a pair of top 25s. Junior Benjamin Bauch, a transfer from Pacific, tied for 11th at the Tucker and had two other top-40 efforts.

“We have a lot of depth this year, and that makes for some very good competition at home,” Millican said. “We’ve had different guys on the team play well. It’s nice to see good balance on the team. Everyone is doing a good job.

“Our obvious goal is to finish the season in Los Angeles (at the NCAA Championship May 29-June 3 at Riviera Country Club). To get there, we have to take care of business at home and get ready to play. We can’t start looking ahead (but) just look at and get ready for our next tournament.”

In this case, that will be Feb. 15-17, when the Lobos travel to Hawaii for the Feb. 15-17 John Burns Intercollegiate. A strong field awaits. Will the Lobos be ready?

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