With the fall season complete, the usual suspects hover near the top of college golf. And flying just under the radar, as it often does, is San Diego State, a program that is hoping to become much more recognizable in the near future.
In five fall tournaments, the Aztecs finished with four top-4 showings, including a victory at Pepperdine’s Club Glove Intercollegiate in early October. They closed the fall season at No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings – their highest position this late in the season.
The Aztecs, who were No. 29 in Golfweek’s cumulative six-year ranking since the 1999-2000 season, sit in the shadow of the Pac-10 schools and at times are the fourth or fifth team mentioned in an underrated Mountain West Conference. That may be changing thanks to a shift in the way head coach Ryan Donovan and Dale Walker, director of golf operations, are doing things.
The Aztecs, who have four players ranked individually in Golfweek’s top 200, have combined two players who used redshirt years to mature and fight off injuries, a junior college player and a transfer to put together what could be one of the best teams in school history.
“We are not doing the standard recruiting of just bringing in the freshman and waiting for them to mature,” said Donovan, 28, who is in his third year as head coach at his alma mater. “We went a little different route (by) getting older kids with some maturity, and that’s been our biggest asset.”
When Donovan speaks of older kids with maturity, he’s referring to his two seniors – Andrew Scott (ranked 107th), a fifth-year player who redshirted his first season, and Josh Warthen (No. 134), a 25-year-old who played at Allan Hancock College, a junior college in Santa Maria, Calif., before joining the Aztecs.
“Their experience and work is finally paying off,” Donovan said.
Another big lift has been sophomore David Palm (No. 124), a transfer from Georgia Southern. Palm, the 2005 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, was named an honorable mention All-American after tying for 27th at the ’05 NCAA Championship.
Filling the fourth spot is sophomore Aaron Goldberg (No. 184), who also used a redshirt year.
“All (four) have won a college event,” Donovan said. “It’s a very good group and they all feel like they should be that No. 1 guy.”
The Aztecs have never won a conference title, but have advanced to three NCAA finals the past seven years but have never made the cut.
“We have been doing all the right things and have been patient and now it’s just time for it to happen,” Scott said.
The main goal remains the same – to make it to the NCAA finals. However, Donovan said his team has some new short-term goals in place as well.
“We always have seemed to finish second or third and not win,” Donovan said. “If we can win in the regular season, then when we get there at the end of the year we are comfortable in those positions. Last year, I felt like once we got there we might have been just happy to be there.”
Another victory or two, and the Aztecs might step out of the shadows once and for all.