Notebook: San Jose St. rekindles memories
The San Jose State men’s program is experiencing a revival, and John Kennaday has the call log to prove it. In the past few weeks, the Spartans coach has received adulation from those within the athletic department. He’s received multiple calls from giddy alums in Canada. He’s received a passionate Facebook message from a former SJSU player who is now a teaching pro in Israel.
“We haven’t exactly broadcast it as much as you might expect,” Kennaday said this week, “and every day, it seems, we’re getting a pat on the back.”
Yet what sticks with him now is an animated -- and unprintable -- voicemail message. On the other end was Arron Oberholser, the former San Jose State All-American, injury-plagued Tour pro and current Spartans volunteer assistant coach. “He was so damn happy,” Kennaday said of Oberholser. “Just bouncing off the wall, man.”
Such euphoria isn’t unfounded, either. For the first time in more than 20 years, San Jose State has won three events in a season; that the Spartans accomplished the feat in their first three events only heightened the intrigue. They are the only three-win team in the country. They are now ranked 18th, according to the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. And they are, right now, the premier team in the Western Athletic Conference.
“But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that we’ve got a long way to go,” said Kennaday, who has been the head coach at SJSU since 2005. “So I’m kind of withholding my excitement, trying to stay focused on what we’re trying to do here. I don’t feel like it’s time to celebrate just yet.”
There’s plenty of reason to cheer, however. Despite playing only 14 top-100 teams in its first three tournaments, San Jose State won its season-opening event by 17 shots, with four players finishing in the top 5; captured the second event by shooting 25 under as a team; and claimed its most recent victory behind senior Jay Myers, the Spartans’ No. 1 player, who picked up the first individual title of his career.
“To break through and start winning tournaments in the fashion we have,” Kennaday said, “it’s kind of brought back memories of years gone by.”
Though much of the focus in San Jose has centered around the once-dominant women’s program, there is a rich history with the men’s team, too -- Ken Venturi, Roger Maltbie, Mark Lye, Mark Wiebe, Oberholser, among others -- and the hot start by the Spartans has only re-stoked some imaginations.
Said Kennaday: “I had no idea how many people were paying attention.”
Last year San Jose State advanced to the NCAAs for the first time in 14 years, and at regionals Myers played a round with then-Georgia senior Russell Henley. Afterward, Myers and Kennaday were approached by Bulldogs coach Chris Haack.
“You keep doing what you’re doing,” Haack told Myers, “and you’ll be going places.”
Kennaday said Myers “can hit shots that very few people can hit,” and that, slowly, he’s learning to harness that immense talent. (Myers finished last season No. 222 in the Golfweek rankings, but peaked this week at No. 41.) Sophomores Daniel Semmler and Justin Estrada also are solid contributors in the middle of the lineup, and Matthew Hovan, a fifth-year senior, should have a productive spring. And then there’s Christopher Lang, a Swede who played on the state championship team at Fresno City College before redshirting last year at San Jose State because of injuries. Said Kennaday: “He’s a heck of a cleanup hitter for us.”
How long San Jose State can maintain this torrid pace remains to be seen. In fact, a market correction may come next week at Cal’s Alister MacKenzie Invitational, at which several West Coast teams are expected to play . . . but then again, maybe not. Before this season, the Spartans had won only one team title since 2005. Now, they’ve won three in a row. Everyone, it seems, is taking notice.
“I think we’re just taking it one day at a time, trying to do our best,” Kennaday said, “and with that approach, who knows how far we can go?”
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WELL, THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG: The Year of the Freshman continued Oct. 11, with Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan capturing medalist honors at The Prestige at PGA West.
This much-ballyhooed freshman class, described by insiders and coaches as one of the best in years, has not disappointed through the first two months of the season. Alabama’s Justin Thomas won the Carpet Capital in his college debut. Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers topped a stellar field at Olympia Fields. And now Pan, Golfweek’s third-ranked incoming freshman, held off some of the Pac-12’s best to win in La Quinta, Calif.
Yet the most publicized of the bunch, Texas freshman Jordan Spieth, is still searching for his first college title after another close call, this time at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational. Spieth led Illinois’ Thomas Pieters by two with three holes to play, but finished bogey-bogey-double to tie for second. And last week, at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, Spieth held a share of the 36-hole lead before a closing 76 sent him tumbling to a tie for sixth.
More standout freshmen are waiting to break through in USC’s Anthony Paolucci and Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans. All of these newcomers, it seems, are vying for more than just top honors in their class. They can factor in the National Player of the Year race, as well.
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’BOUT TIME: It took 37 tournaments, and the disappointment of four runner-up finishes, for Florida State senior Brooks Koepka to secure his first collegiate victory. That it finally came Oct. 9 at the Brickyard Collegiate was sweet redemption for a player who, at one point during his sophomore season, was ranked No. 1 in the country.
“You would never think it was his first win by his demeanor prior, during and after the round,” said Florida State coach Trey Jones in an email. “He never got ahead of himself during the event, and after the event he was humble.”
Koepka, No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, shot 66-70-69 to finish four shots ahead of teammates Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves of winner Georgia Tech.
“It’s awesome to finally get my first win in a college tournament,” Koepka, 21, told Seminoles.com. “Hopefully there are more of those to come.”
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SHORT SHOTS: The 12 teams at the Gifford Collegiate at CordeValle (Oct. 31-Nov. 2) will wear pink shirts during the tournament to support Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. Each team also will donate items to be auctioned at the local cancer society. . . . Oklahoma State, playing for the second consecutive tournament without senior Peter Uihlein, finished 10th in the 12-team Jack Nicklaus Invitational. No Cowboys player finished inside the top 20 individually. . . . USC’s Anthony Paolucci, Golfweek’s No. 4-ranked incoming freshman, didn’t crack the starting five for the Trojans’ first event, The Prestige at PGA West, but tied for 17th as an individual.
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A LOOK AHEAD:
What: Bank of Tennessee at Blackthorn Club (The Ridges)
Where: Jonesborough, Tenn.
When: Oct. 14-16
Why it’s important: Five teams in the top 55 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings are expected to compete, including Clemson (10), Virginia (11) and Tennessee (33). Clemson’s Corbin Mills is coming off a victory at the Jerry Pate Invitational, while the Cavaliers won their season-opening VCU Shootout, during which Ben Kohles and Denny McCarthy tied for fourth. This event could help determine, among other things, the pecking order in the ACC.