Brass Ring Beckons: Whit Men's Golf Poised to Reach for It All

News Release Date:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WALLA WALLA, Wash. - After finishing third at the Northwest Conference Fall Classic last October, the Whitman College men's golf team is poised to reach for the brass ring over the next few months.

"By placing third in the classic, we gave ourselves a much better chance numerically to win the conference championship this spring," Whitman coach Peter McClure says.

Peter McClure

"All of the guys are excited about building on our momentum from last fall. All of us know we have the potential to finish high in the standings."

Results from the Fall Classic count for 25 percent of the year-long scoring system used to determine the NWC champion. The Spring Classic also counts for 25 percent, which leaves the season-ending NWC Championship Tournament to cover the final 50 percent.

"If you're in fourth place or worse after the fall tournament, it's very difficult from a mathematical standpoint to jump over enough teams in the spring to win it all," McClure says. "What we did in the fall, essentially, was move ourselves from the middle third of the conference, which is where we've been in recent years, to the top third."

Whitman finished the first round of the Fall Classic in fifth place but then shaved 18 strokes off its team scored in the second round, vaulting into third place and missing second by just six shots.

The Missionaries made their move in the second round with a 297 team total (top four golfers), the program's best team score in more than a decade. 

Scott Martin

"We outplayed every other team in the conference in that second round," McClure says. "That was the first time we've done that in my time here."

Whitman kicks off its season this Saturday at Wildhorse Golf Course (Mission, Ore.) with an 18-hole match against Lewis-Clark State and College of Idaho. The Missionaries then head south for Spring Break to play March 17-18 in the St. Paddy's Day Invitational, hosted by the University of Redlands.

The climactic Spring Classic and NWC Championships follow in late March and April. The overall conference champion earns a berth in the NCAA Division III national championships.

Freshman Scott Martin led the charge at last October's NWC Fall Classic, shooting a 1-under par 71 in the second round to finish with a 36-hole total of 148, good enough for a third-place tie. 

"Scott also shot our best score in the first round, which means he played the closing round with the top group," McClure says. "Playing in that group didn't faze him a bit. He hit the ball well and made good decisions throughout the second round. The pressure didn't seem to bother him at all. If anything, he thrived in the situation."

Geoff Burks

Martin comes to Whitman from Escondido, Calif., where he played a great deal of competitive golf in the high school and junior ranks.

"Scott has been a great addition to our program," McClure says. "His attitude is very positive and he's very supportive of his teammates.

"For a freshman in his first semester of college, Scott also was very consistent on the course. Of the seven competitive rounds we played in the fall, he shot in the 70s in all but two rounds."

While Martin finished the fall with a 78 stroke average, junior Geoff Burks and sophomore Andrew Welch both averaged 77 shots per round.

"In terms of talent, we have a great mix of youth and experience," McClure says.

After shooting 81 in two of his first three rounds in the fall, Burks finished with a flourish, posting scores of 78, 74, 78 and 73.

"Geoff played especially well at the Fall Classic," McClure says. "He is one of the reasons we did so well as a team."

Andrew Welch

Welch notched three rounds of 75 or lower during the fall, one of which was a 1-over 73 at Wildhorse Golf Course near Mission, Ore.

"Andrew has been one of our best players for two years now," McClure says. "His swing generates an old-fashioned ball flight that is low and penetrating. He can knock the ball a mile, but he's also very good around the greens and he's mentally tough."

Burks, Welch and Martin give the Missionaries three players who are "disappointed if they don't shoot in the 70s," McClure says. "They are at a point in their games where they all expect to play well every time they compete in a tournament."

Senior captain John Abercrombie shot a low round of 75 in the fall to go along with a pair of 76s. He finished the fall season with a 79 stroke average.

John Abercrombie

"John was not happy that he didn't keep more of his scores in the 70s, but he continues to work as hard as anyone on his game," McClure says. "I also can't say enough about what John has done as a team captain. He's had a tremendously positive impact on the entire team."

Sophomore Jonathan Standen shot a low round of 76 in the fall and finished with an 81 stroke average.

"Jonathan has a lot of talent and a good swing," McClure says. "When his game is in a groove, he hits the ball as long and straight as anyone. There's no reason his scores shouldn't continue to drop as he continues to work at it."

The other two freshman on the roster are Cheney Doane (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Nathan Fisher (Tacoma, Wash.).

"Both Cheney and Nathan show a lot of potential," McClure says.

Jonathan Standen

Doane played played five rounds in the fall with scores ranging between 80 and 82. One bad round of 90 bumped his stroke average to 83.

"Cheney wasn't quite in sync last fall, but he's only a freshman who's going to get better. He spent a week last summer at a golf school at Stanford University, which shows how much he wants to improve his game."

Fisher played just just one competitive round in the fall, carding an 83.

"Nathan was playing much better as the fall semester continued. His scores in practice rounds kept coming down. Both he and Cheney have the ability to play at this level."

The team wild cards this spring are juniors Peter Clark and Drew Raher, who didn't in the fall as they prepared for their varsity basketball season.

"Of the two, Peter has the most golfing experience and talent, but both guys are an absolute joy to have on the team," McClure says. "Both are good competitors who are very positive and supportive of their teammates."

Cheney Doane

Clark made a key contribution at last spring's NWC Championship Tournament, shooting two rounds in the high 70s.

"Both Peter and Drew can play, and what they give us is a tremendous amount of depth," McClure says.

"It helps us maintain a good, healthy level of inter-squad competition. We'll use different ways to determine who gets to play in the different tournaments. Guys will need to work and keep getting better if they want to play in the tournaments."

And this group seems to welcome the chance to work on its golf game, both from a physical as well as a mental standpoint, McClure says. "We worked early last fall on strength and conditioning. We wanted to make sure all the guys we're in shape and ready to go hard for 18 holes."

Nathan Fisher

Midway through the fall season, McClure did a swing analysis on each of his players and took a close look at where players might be losing strokes.

"What we decided is that we were dropping too many strokes in the short game," he says. "We weren't doing a very good of getting up and down when we missed greens.

"So that's when we agreed to work harder on that part of the game. We spent many afternoons on just chipping and putting. I think it really paid off in how we were scoring later in the fall."

"All of the guys are excited about the progress we made in the fall, and some of the scores we posted," he adds. "We're looking forward to this spring and the chance to keep building on our success."

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu

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