The Virginia men's golf team turned in a strong showing this fall, winning two of four tournaments and heading into the winter break ranked as high as No. 16 in the nation. Head coach Bowen Sargent talks with VirginiaSports.com about the team's fall and the highly-regarded recruiting class headed to UVa next year.
Question: What are your thoughts on the team's performance during the fall season?
Sargent: With two wins out of the four tournaments, that was a little unexpected, especially considering the schedule we played. The strength of the schedule was pretty strong-I think we're somewhere around 25th or 26th in the country.
Even in our other two tournaments-the 10th place finish at The Preview-those were supposedly the 15 best teams in the country-wasn't all that bad. I thought we played very poorly there and that it wasn't reflective of our play or our capability, but even then, I thought 10th place was okay. And then down at the U.S. Collegiate-on a neutral golf course, I think UCLA is probably the best team in the country, and they beat us by seven strokes. I think we have the ability to compete with the best teams in the country at this point.
Question: While The Fall Preview wasn't the best finish for the team, how much of an advantage is it being able to play the course that will host the NCAA Championships?
Sargent: It's a tremendous advantage. That's the reason I wanted to play. To be honest, only a small part of me cared how we played there. I talked to my guys before the tournament and said, ‘Look guys, the reason we're here is to get ready for NCAAs. We need to learn this golf course, we need to take good notes in our yardage books, we need to figure out how to play holes so that when we qualify for nationals, we'll know how to practice, how to prepare, and give ourselves the best opportunity to win because we do have a team that, on the right week, could win NCAAs.' Obviously, it's going to be hard to beat Oklahoma State on their home course. They're a very good team and being on their home course is certainly a help, but you never know when you get into match play. If we can make it to that point, anything can happen, and we certainly have the ability to probably win a couple matches and maybe win them all-you never know.
Question: Freshman Ben Rusch has turned in some low scores for the team in his debut season. What are your thoughts of his performance this fall?
Sargent: He's an extremely accomplished player. To be honest, he's exceeded my expectations. I didn't get to see him when I was recruiting him. I basically went off [former player] Steven Rojas' opinion of him when we were recruited him, and Steven's a kid I trust very much. When he came here, I knew he was good, but he's very good-extremely good. In fact, I've told a lot of people that I think he's every bit as good as Ben Kohles, but he maybe hasn't proved that yet. He's still young and still has some time. But the two are very similar the way they play. He hits it extremely straight, plays fairly conservative, is a good putter, is a very good chipper, so their games are very similar in that respect.
Question: Speaking of Ben Kohles, what is your opinion of his fall season?
Sargent: It's just kind of the beat goes on for him. He seems to really thrive in the college environment and seems to really respond to what's going on here. It's neat to see. He's got so much talent and so much ability, and he had a heck of a fall. I'm sure he'll continue to grow and get better in the next year and a half.
Question: Looking ahead to the spring, what are your thoughts about where you see this team going and how do you feel about the possibility of playing in the NCAA regional just down the road at Virginia Tech?
Sargent: We went over to Virginia Tech on November 5th or 6th just to kind of get a look at it, similar to like The Preview. We want our guys to have a look around and take notes and see the course. Hopefully, that's where we'll get sent. The guys really enjoyed the course. They all played fairly well and it all fit their eyes, so hopefully we'll make it to Virginia Tech's course. Heading into the spring, obviously we start in Hawaii, which the guys are excited about and which will hopefully provide a lot of motivation over the winter to work hard and get a seat on the plane for that trip. Then we have some good tournaments between then and ACCs. I know our guys-probably since the first time I've ever been here-genuinely feel like they have a chance to contend. I know there's always the thought about winning an ACC Championship, but I think that this time, they almost feel like they should win the ACC Championship. That's kind of nice to see, because I get a different sense in their tone for what they want to accomplish this year.
Question: Virginia signed one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Talk about those players who will begin competing for your next year.
Sargent: I think it was an extremely good class. Obviously, Denny [McCarthy] is the marquee player of the three who has a tremendous record over the last two or three summers. He's a very talented kid out of Georgetown Prep, and I think he'll probably step in right away and be one of our best players, if not potentially our best player. The other two-Nick Tremps and Ji Soo Park-are both very solid players. Nick Tremps moved to Virginia after coming from Texas, where he tied for the state junior championship, which obviously speaks to his ability. Then coming over here in his first tournament in Virginia, he shot a 63 in his first round. He's a kid that's explosive and has the ability to go very low and make a lot of birdies. I think he's someone that can certainly help us, as well. Ji is very similar to Nick. He has the ability to make a lot of birdies in a round of golf. I think all three players are very talented and have the ability to make a lot of birdies, which is something that's probably very different than the team we have now. The kids that we have now are much more conservative, if you will, to an extent. But these guys are pretty explosive and have the ability to shoot some extremely low numbers.