News With Commentary by TSL Staff
March 8, 2001
Hokie Golfers Ranked 12th
The Virginia Tech golf team is putting together perhaps their greatest season ever, and the Hokies have come out of nowhere to find themselves ranked 12th nationally in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin team ratings.
Historically, the name "Virginia Tech" doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of the traditional powers of NCAA golf. The Hokies haven't even been to the NCAA's since 1994, when a special team that was led by three of the top four career scoring leaders in Tech golf history (Brian Sharp, Curtis Deal, and Sean Farrell) won the Metro Conference tournament and finished 19th in the NCAA Championships.
Since then, the landscape of Tech golf has been a little more barren. In 1998-99, the team ended the year ranked 162nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin Collegiate Team Rankings. They improved upon that ranking in the 1999-2000 season, finishing 73rd.
So the Tech team was on the rise, but surely no one expected this, a #12 ranking. The collegiate golf year is split into a fall season and a spring season, and the Hokies played in six tournaments in the fall season this year (between September 2nd and October 31st), recording a stunning top-two finish in every single one of them. Tech won three of the six tournaments and finished second in the other three.
And we're not talking 3- or 4-team tournaments. We're talking about tournaments that featured anywhere between 12 and 20 teams. The Hokies won tournaments that pitted 13, 24, and 20 teams against each other, and they were runners-up in tournaments of 12, 12, and 18 teams. The Hokies won three out of the last four fall tournaments that they competed in.
That's nothing short of amazing for a team that makes its home in a place where the temperature typically drops below 40 some time in November or December and doesn't consistently get back into the 50's until April. This isn't Florida, California, or Arizona, folks: Blacksburg is cold. That makes it difficult to keep your golf game sharp year-round.
The amazing resurgence has been led by sophomore Brendon de Jonge from Harare, Zimbabwe. de Jonge won the last two fall tournaments the Hokies played in (finishing first among 119 golfers and 101 golfers, respectively, in the two tournaments), but he is hardly alone in carding low scores. In the six fall tournaments the Hokies competed in, the number of golfers has ranged from 65 to 119, and individual Tech golfers recorded top-12 finishes fourteen times.
That means that on average, two or three Tech golfers finished in the top 12 in every tournament. In their final fall tournament, the ODU/SeaScape Collegiate Invitational, four of the five Tech golfers finished in the top 12 out of 101 golfers.
The Hokies started off the spring season March 5th and 6th by finishing 4th amongst 18 teams in the Matlock Collegiate Classic at the Grasslands Golf Club in Lakeland, Florida. It was the first time this year that Tech has not finished in the top two of a tournament, and not coincidentally, it came during an uncharacteristically poor performance by de Jonge, who finished 54th (his previous low finish in five fall tournaments was 14th).
Tech is scheduled to compete in five tournaments this spring, and then they'll go to the Big East Championships in late April. The top six teams in the Big East will compete in the championships, and the winner gets an automatic NCAA bid.
In the past, the Hokies have required a conference championship in order to make the NCAA's, but if they can hold their high ranking and continue to make a name for themselves, perhaps that won't be necessary this year. But the Hokies are currently looking like the strong favorite to be the Big East champs. After Tech at #12, the only Big East teams in the top 150 are St. John's (85), Notre Dame (119), Rutgers (121), and last year's Big East champion, Seton Hall (128).
In an excellent article titled Virginia Tech Men Making Meteoric Rise, Golfweek.com assistant editor Lance Ringler noted that one reason for the golf team's improvement is a support group for Tech golf known as the Hackin' Hokies. The origins of the Hackin' Hokies can be traced back to 16 years ago, when a small group of VT golf supporters traveled to the Metro Conference championship at Wild Dunes Golf Links on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
Since then, the Hackin' Hokies have grown to 60 members. They travel with the team (it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it), and they support the team financially. Primarily through their donations, the golf team now has 15 endowed scholarships.
Are you ready for the punch line? Despite having 15 endowed scholarships, the Hokies only have 11 golfers on scholarship. This is all that is allowed by the VT athletic administration. That's probably due to the fact that for each male golfer on scholarship, the athletic department would have to fund a scholarship for a female athlete in another sport to balance things out, as required by Title IX legislation. The VT athletic administration has allowed a bigger team size in recent years, boosting what used to be just seven or eight players a few years ago up to the current 11 players.
One interesting side note to the Tech golf team's performance is that a strong showing by the golf team would give a boost to Tech's 2000-2001 Sears Cup rankings. The Sears Cup rankings are an overall ranking of a university's athletic programs, and where your school places in the Sears Cup rankings is an indicator of the depth and excellence of all of the teams fielded by a university, not just the high-profile sports like football and basketball.
Last year, the Hokies finished 63rd in the Sears Cup, their highest finish ever (topping their #86 finish for the 1998-1999 academic year). Virginia Tech usually earns points in the Sears Cup from the football team, the track and field teams, and the men's and women's tennis teams. Last year, a 19th place finish from the wrestling team boosted Tech to their highest-ever finish, and this year, an NCAA bid for the women's basketball team and an NCAA bid for the golf team might help the Hokies top last year's ranking.
Looking down the road, the team only has one senior (Tommy Graham of Blacksburg), and he isn't even one of their top five golfers, the core group that competes in tournaments. Among those five golfers (de Jonge, Brian Krusoe, Johnson Wagner, Chris McKeel, and Ryan Stinnett), there are two juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman.
For the Tech golf team, who were nobodies in the NCAA golf landscape just last year, the future looks bright indeed.