No. 9 Cavaliers prepare to tee off spring season
Captains McCarthy, Rusch lead Virginia against high expectations
The No. 9 Virginia men’s golf team finished qualifying Sunday just in time to avoid the snow and will head south next week, teeing off in competition for the first time since October. The Cavaliers will travel to Aiken, S.C. to compete in the Palmetto Intercollegiate March 10 and 11, followed by the Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, Ga. from March 14-16.
While many teams began their spring season in late February and have already played multiple tournaments, Virginia coach Bowen Sargent expects his team to vie for top finishes in both events.
“For most of the teams in this field, this will be at least their third tournament, so in terms of being tournament-ready, we’ll probably be a little bit behind the curve in that respect,” Sargent said. “We start our season a little bit later than most schools, but typically we do fairly well the first tournament of the year.”
The Cavaliers have played in the Palmetto Intercollegiate and the Schenkel Invitational since 2010 and 2009, respectively. Placing second in 2011 and 2012, Virginia finished sixth out of 18 teams in Aiken last year, including a second-place finish by then-senior Mac McLaughlin, who shot a career-best 2-under 208 — two strokes behind the leader.
Despite losing McLaughlin, who played in 12 events and was the team’s third-lowest scorer with a 74.00 average, expectations have never been higher. The Cavaliers are ranked in the top-10 nationally for the first time ever and second in the ACC.
“Mac was a very important player on our team last year, but we were fortunate to have two very good first years coming in and both of those have performed admirably well,” Sargent said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of depth. I think we have six guys who could be plugged into those No. 3, 4, 5 spots.”
The top two spots are firmly locked up by senior captain Ben Rusch and junior captain Denny McCarthy.
Rusch redshirted last season after winning the ACC individual title in 2012 — the first Cavalier to do so since 1955. He placed second in the U.S. Collegiate in October, four strokes off the lead with a 6-under 210. His 70.83 average in the fall was good for second on the team and sixth among all ACC players.
McCarthy, ranked seventh nationally by Golf Week, is a returning All-American and led the Cavaliers in scoring in the fall, boasting a 70.25 average — third in the ACC. He posted top-five finishes in the first three tournaments of the fall season and finished under-par in all four events, shooting an 11-under 205 to finish second at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate.
In early February, McCarthy also became the first Virginia player to be named to the Ben Hogan Award Watch List, honoring the nation’s top collegiate golfer. However, McCarthy insists he does not spend much time contemplating the award.
“I don’t really follow too many things online or pay attention to all that stuff; … the way I hear about it is people tell me,” McCarthy said. “This year we have an opportunity to do something special as a team. …You go out and play good golf, and the rest will take care of itself.”
McCarthy admitted it felt “a little weird” being looked up to as a team leader last year as an underclassman. But as an upperclassman and captain this year, he has taken an active role in helping freshmen Derek Bard and Jimmy Stanger adapt to collegiate competition.
“They’ve asked me how to deal with certain situations … but I’ve been really impressed with the way they’ve handled themselves,” McCarthy said. “They’re very mature for being freshman, and I think that’s a key reason why we had such big success in the fall, because we needed some other help and they stepped up big for us.”
Bard was ranked the No. 35 prospect by Junior Golf Scoreboard upon signing with Virginia. Playing in two events, he quickly made an impact in the fall, placing fourth with a 9-under 207 and making the winning putt at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate. Bard’s second-round 8-under 64 at the tournament was a mere stroke off of Virginia’s all-time single-round low.
Stanger, the No. 63-ranked prospect, competed in three events in the fall, placing as high as ninth in the Northern Intercollegiate where he shot a 1-over 217. Sargent expects both freshmen will see significant time this spring.
“They both played very well in qualifying,” Sargent said. “I can’t speak for the second tournament because I could change the lineup, but I anticipate both of them playing certainly in the first tournament.”
The team returns juniors David Pastore and Ji Soo Park, the team’s second and fourth-leading scorers from last season at 74.15 and 74.41 strokes, respectively.
Park was the only other player besides McCarthy to participate in all four fall events, placing ninth in the Northern Intercollegiate and 15th at the DICK’s Challenge Cup. Pastore placed 15th and 19th in the tournaments, respectively — the only two fall events he competed in.
Sophomores Nick McLaughlin and Nick Tremps also return for the Cavaliers. Sargent called McLaughlin, who finished third in qualifying, “clearly the most improved over the fall.”
“Typically, in his first three semesters here, he’s been the No. 5, 6, 7 man on our team,” Sargent said. “Finishing third with the team that we have and the depth that we have, I thought was certainly a step up for him.”
After the Palmetto Intercollegiate, Virginia will play in the Schenkel Invitational against a field that boasts three other top-25 teams: No. 7 Central Florida, No. 13 Alabama-Birmingham and No. 22 Texas.