The Virginia Men’s Golf team kicks off their 2018-19 season campaign this weekend as the Hoos head to Rocky Face, Georgia to take part in the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Back in 2016, the Hoos won the Carpet Capital Collegiate, led by Derek Bard and Thomas Walsh, both of whom finished in the top six of the event. Virginia, which received votes in the preseason GCAA coaches poll, is coming off of a season where they finished just two strokes short of making the NCAA Championships.
“It was a bit of a growing season for us,” Virginia head coach Bowen Sargent said of their 2017-18 season in a phone interview. “We did lose Jimmy [Stanger] and Derek [Bard]. It’s hard to lose a first and a second team All-American that contributed to 50% of your scoring so from a production standpoint that’s a hard loss to take.”
The departures of Stanger and Bard, who graduated after the 2016-17 season, drastically reduced the returning experience heading into last season for the Cavaliers.
“It created kind of a vacuum in terms of experience,” Sargent stated. “Thomas [Walsh] had played a lot, almost every tournament his first couple years so he had a little bit of experience. [Danny] Walker, who was our lone fourth year, he had experience as well as he had played most of the tournaments his first three years. Once you got outside those two guys, we really didn’t have a lot of experience.”
Despite having golfers that were upperclassmen, the Cavaliers had a lot of players lacking match experience. Ashton Poole, now a redshirt junior, had only played in three tournaments before playing in most of the events last season. With Walker, Walsh, and Poole taking up three of the starting spots, Sargent filled in the remaining two spots with first years.
Virginia had some growing pains, but heading into its fourth—and final—tournament in the fall, Coach Sargent thought his squad started to play like a top-30 team. As players adapted and grew into their roles, everything started to go more smoothly and players developed.
“It was a very rewarding year as we were able to get guys to grow and develop rather quickly and on the fly.”
There were some outstanding moments throughout the season last year as the Cavaliers hit their stride. Virginia took first place in the Cleveland Palmetto tournament in South Carolina. Thomas Walsh won the ACC tournament—his first win in any college tournament—as he put up the best 54-hole score in the 65 year history of the event. The Hoos earned the No. 8 seed in the Norman Regional and, despite the aforementioned youth, missed the cut for the NCAA Championships by just two strokes. After the season, Ashton Poole won the Dogwood Invitational as part of the amateur circuit.
Although Coach Sargent would have liked to have made the NCAA Championships, he knows that the experience gained by his team was invaluable.
“I’m hoping that with the team that’s coming back and returning that four of those guys that played on the team last year should play on the team this year, and if that’s the case, we’ll be in a pretty good position.”
Walker graduated, but the Hoos return everyone else and bring in a couple of talented first year players.
“We do have two pretty good players coming in,” Sargent said. “It remains to be seen how they adapt, do they make it into the lineup. If one of the two makes it in, we’ll have an experienced team. If two of the freshman make it in, then we’ll probably be young again.”
Virginia is going with the more experienced starting lineup of Walsh, third year Andrew Orischak, second years Jimmie Massie and WeiWei Gao, and first year David Morgan for the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
On the Hoos’ chances this year, Coach Sargent feels strongly about his team, stating, “I think we’ll be a top-25 team this year.”
New golf facility on the horizon
Virginia Golf’s new home is close to being a reality as the UVA Golf Facility at Birdwood Golf Course is under construction. The facility will house both men’s and women’s golf teams, providing places for the players to train and relax and giving the coaches office space.
Benefits from building this new facility are three-fold as it helps with maintaining relationships with former players, improves the experience for current players, and helps in recruiting new players to come to Virginia.
Players who return to Charlottesville will be able to see their name on a wall or a trophy somewhere. Current players will have a place to store their clubs, relax, train, and have access to their coaches. As it stands now, the golf coaches have their offices in U-Hall, and they don’t often see their players in the normal day-to-day. Indoor hitting bays will allow golfers to practice in inclement or winter weather, something Coach Sargent says 80% of recruits ask about.
The building will also house player lounges, locker rooms, an indoor putting surface, and places to do video analysis. Additionally, it has two “nutrition stations” and a place for club repair. It is two stories and is expected to cost a total of $6.7 million. New women’s head coach Ria Scott has attributed the new facility as one of the deciding factors for her making the move to Charlottesville from the University of Oregon, saying “There were many things that attracted me to the University of Virginia, but seeing this commitment to our golf teams solidified my decision to coach at UVA.”
You can find more information on the new facility (and see renderings!) here.
Get to know Coach Sargent
Bowen Sargent is entering his 15th season at the helm of the Virginia men’s golf. He’s an alum of NC State and coached at Tennessee before taking over in Charlottesville. In order to get to know him a little bit better, we asked some rapid fire questions.
STL: Who is your favorite golfer?
Coach Sargent: Nick Faldo was my favorite golfer, but now he’s an announcer.
STL: What’s your favorite course to play?
CS: Well, Augusta National would have to be on a very, very short list.
STL: Best food in Charlottesville?
CS: Oooh! C & O without a doubt.
STL: If you could take any current UVA athlete or coach and get them on the course
CS: Tony Bennett...I’ve been dying to play with Tony. We’ve had it set up two or three times and between his recruiting schedule and mine just can’t make it work. Tony Bennett for sure. He’s a good friend and loves golf and is good at it, but I want to see how good he is.
STL: What’s your go to attire of choice for the golf course.
CS: Haha...I’m a polo shirt guy.