Notebook: Lobos among fall's pleasant surprises
WINDERMERE, Fla. – Many players at this year’s U.S. Amateur hit to the 17th green at Cherry Hills Country Club with a wedge in hand. Gavin Green was one of them, except he used a gap wedge for his second, not his third, shot to the 544-yard par-5.
“Gavin and Bubba (Watson) would have a pretty fair driving contest,” Green’s New Mexico teammate, James Erkenbeck, said. “Gavin is the longest player in college, for sure.”
Erkenbeck said Green’s ball travels 185-187 mph off the face of his driver. Watson leads the PGA Tour in ball speed with an average of 184.98 mph. Green carries his tee shots about 310 yards, he said. He can hit it as far as 380 yards in the altitude of his college town, Albuquerque.
Green, a sophomore from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is known for more than his length. He appeared on the cover of Malaysian Golf Digest after his victory at this year’s Malaysian Amateur. Now Green is helping his New Mexico team earn some recognition in this country.
The Lobos are one of the pleasant surprises of the fall season. They were No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings before finishing second at Isleworth, two shots behind Cal. Only one team has finished closer to the nation’s No. 1 team, which has won all five of its starts this season: Georgia Tech, which shared the Ping/Golfweek Preview title with the Golden Bears.
The Lobos opened the season with a fifth-place finish at the Gopher Invitational, followed by a seventh-place showing at the Ping/Golfweek Preview. They won their home event, the William H. Tucker Invitational, by 29 strokes over Colorado before the Isleworth runner-up.
New Mexico concludes its season Oct. 29-30 at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas.
Green has finished in the top 10 in his past three starts, including a victory at the Tucker Invitational. He holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win by a stroke. He also was second at the Preview and ninth at Isleworth. He represented Malaysia at the recent World Amateur Team Championship, finishing 19th individually, and made match play at this year’s U.S. Amateur.
The Lobos missed out on last year’s NCAA Championship by one shot after shooting 8 over par in the final round. Their five-man postseason roster featured three freshmen. “We were pretty young, so the freshmen didn’t realize what we’d just missed out on,” said Erkenbeck, a redshirt senior from San Diego. The Lobos also missed the NCAA Championship by a shot during Erkenbeck's freshman season.
New Mexico’s roster at Isleworth featured three seniors from California and two international sophomores: Green and France’s Victor Perez.
Green has improved after switching from a draw to a fade earlier this year. The new shot shape has cost him about 10 yards – an easy amount to sacrifice, considering his distance – but has added control to his game. He was 45th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings before Isleworth. Erkenbeck, medalist at this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links, was ranked 70th. He finished second at Isleworth.
With all their starters returning from last season, and another year of experience under their belts, the Lobos have high expectations for this year and hope to avoid last year’s fate. “All of them have gained a little bit of experience, a little bit more confidence and are more comfortable,” Erkenbeck said of the freshmen. “I think we’re under the radar a little bit. I just think we haven’t been ranked as high as we’d like to be. We’re playing to our potential now.”
• • •
UCLA finished second by a shot to Georgia Tech at the U.S. Collegiate, which ended Sunday. None of the five players in this year’s lineup played at last year’s U.S. Collegiate, though. The Bruins started freshmen Jonathan Garrick and Jake Knapp this year, as well as redshirt sophomore Manav Shah, who’s playing his first season for the Bruins after transferring from San Diego.
Pontus Widegren, a mainstay in the Bruins’ lineup during the past few years, wasn’t at the U.S. Collegiate but still tied a school record last week. He shot 18-under 198 (64-66-68) at Twin Oaks Golf Course to win the CSU San Marcos Fall Classic on Oct. 15-16, tying the school’s 54-hole scoring record. It was Widegren’s first victory since the 2010 Ping/Golfweek Preview. He was an honorable-mention All-American in the 2010-11 season.
Widegren finished 17th at last year’s U.S. Collegiate.