At the start of the season, Wake Forest men’s coach Jerry Haas made a simple, small sign to hang on the team van’s rearview mirror. On it was the number 29, signifying where the Demon Deacons were listed in Golfweek’s 2004-05 preseason rankings.
It has not been removed.
“It’s something I hope motivates us,” said Haas, in his eighth season at the Wake Forest helm. “It’s just a constant reminder for us. I thought we should have been ranked higher, and I wanted our guys to prove we were better than (29th).”
So far, it’s worked. Wake currently is No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and at one point rose as high as No. 5. In seven starts, the Demon Deacons have six top-10 finishes, including seconds at the Carpet Capital last fall and Gator Invitational this spring.
In one sense that shouldn’t come as a surprise because Wake returned four starters from the previous season. But it was the one starter it lost through graduation – Bill Haas – that had many wondering how the Demon Deacons would fare.
Bill Haas, the nephew of the Wake coach and son of PGA Tour veteran Jay Haas, was all-everything as a senior, putting together a season that compared favorably with such past Demon Deacon legends as his father, Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins and Curtis Strange. Bill took the young Deacons on his shoulders as he won five events, finished second individually at the NCAA Championship, was the ACC Player of the Year, finished No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and set an NCAA record with a 68.9 scoring average.
“There’s no doubt Bill was a great player, and you can’t just replace someone like that overnight,” said his uncle. “But I think the guys who were on the team last season learned a lot from him. They want to be like Bill, and they want to carry the torch of Wake Forest golf and follow in the footsteps of all the great players who have gone through the program before them.”
The Demon Deacons are missing a Haas-like superstar, but do have a solid group of talented, young players, including a strong freshman class.
“What we try to do is keep improving as a team every time we go out there,” Jerry Haas said. “The more these guys get into pressure situations, the better they are. I knew at the start of the season we had good experience coming back and some extremely talented freshman. These guys know that, for the next couple of years, this is their team.”
Leading Wake’s attack is junior Kyle Reifers and freshman Webb Simpson. Reifers has six top-20 showings and is No. 23 in the Golfweek/ Sagarin Rankings. Simpson, a highly touted junior before entering the college ranks, has four top-20 finishes and is ranked No. 41.
Sophomore Sean Moore (No. 116) and freshman Chris McCartin (No. 149) also have played key roles, as have junior Doug Manchester, sophomore Chad Wilcox and freshman Dustin Groves.
“The thing I like most about this team is it has a lot of moxie,” Haas said. “Everyone is eager and willing to work hard to be the best. They have a great deal of pride in themselves and in the tradition of Wake Forest golf. I feel it’s a very talented group, and I think if we play up to our ability we have a chance to win a national championship.”