May 12, 2002
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - With a bid to the Central Regional of the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championships secured May 6, the University of Maryland men's golf team is right where it thought it would be after a successful fall season. Top-six finishes in all five fall tournaments and top-ranked status in District II had the Terps all but into the NCAA tournament field before the spring season had even started.
However, the spring did not begin the way the Terps thought it would. Maryland plunged into its spring schedule with back-to-back southern tournaments March 16-17 at the Birkdale Collegiate in Huntersville, N.C., and March 18-19 at the Cleveland Golf Championship in Aiken, S.C. Despite ideal scoring conditions, the Terps recorded 15th- and 11th-place finishes, respectively, against the tough tournament fields of national contenders.
While those southern teams had been playing competitively for weeks, the Terps had been practicing in the 50-degree weather of February and early March in College Park and were late starting the spring schedule. When they found themselves in the Carolina sunshine, it was difficult to adjust to the calm conditions and plus-30 degree difference in temperature.
"We went down there and played a lot worse than we wanted to, and the worst thing about it was that the scoring conditions were perfect," senior Corey Brigham said. "That really hurt a lot of us because mentally, we went into it thinking, 'Wow, this is perfect - conditions are great, weather's nice and this everything we haven't had leading into the spring season with the bad weather.'
"But up here is no way to prepare for down there. We saw all of these other teams playing really well at this point and those were our first two tournaments. But we knew that eventually we would come out of it."
The Terps began that turnaround a week later in the final round of their third spring tournament, the March 25-26 Colonial Intercollegiate in Williamsburg, Va. With the District II field shooting high first-round scores, including Maryland's round of 300, the Terps recovered to shoot a final-round 291 and tie for fourth place in the 17-team field.
Maryland had finally shed the rust that plagued its first two tournaments. The team had put up a round and result on which it could build confidence.
"I think in the beginning, we were a little rusty coming back from the winter," freshman Bobby MacWhinnie said. "It was tough at first with back-to-back tournaments to start the season. But I think that once we got that under our belts and realized that we needed to step it up again and get ready to go, we were able to turn it around.
"It took us awhile - we weren't expecting that, honestly - but I think it was good that it happened, because we realized that we needed to work a little harder and get back to where we were in the fall."
The Terps finally regained that fall effort against difficult playing conditions at the April 8-9 Liberty Spring Classic. Horrible weather, which included 40 mph wind gusts and horizontal rainfall, combined with difficult pin placements sent first-round scores soaring over 300, including the Terps' 19-over-par second-place score of 307.
But behind individual champion Brigham's six-under-par 66, a score that coach Tom Hanna described as "one of the best rounds I've ever seen," the Terps lowered their score by 17 shots in the second round to claim the team title.
"The scores were high and we didn't shoot great numbers except for Corey," MacWhinnie said. "But I think that just being able to stick with it and the fact that we won gave us the confidence of just being able to win again."
Another development that came out of those first two District II tournaments was the steady play of senior Phillip Fenstermaker (Rockville, Md.). Competing as an individual, Fenstermaker tied for 14th place at the Colonial and claimed second at the Liberty tournament, all the while pushing for a spot in the regular line-up.
"Phil stepped in and played a few times and played well," Brigham said. "I think that kind of lit a fire under a couple of guys because they finally had someone pushing them to start playing better."
The result was more consistent play to close out the regular season. Beginning with the final round of the April 12-13 Wofford Invitational, the Terps averaged 290.29 strokes over their final seven rounds. This span includes the ACC Championships, where the Terps took eighth by shooting their best conference score (875) since 1998 against a field that included seven of Golfstat's top 50 teams, as well as the spring regular season finale at the Rutherford Intercollegiate, where the Terps took second place behind tournament host Penn State with an eight-over-par total of 872.
"The guys started to get confidence in the last half of the season," MacWhinnie said. "Everybody started getting scores to count and we played a lot better as a team."
The Terps claimed one of District II's four NCAA Championship bids by finishing as the region's second-ranked team. The Terps returned to the 81-team field for the first time in three years and the third time in Hanna's 11 years as the coach of Maryland by claiming nine top-six finishes in 12 tournaments, including all five fall tourneys. One of eight ACC teams chosen for the championships, Maryland will compete as the 22nd seed in the Central Regional May 16-18 at Pleasant Valley Golf Course in Little Rock, Ark.
"We have a shot at the national championship," Coach Hanna said. "If we play well and play mistake-free, there's no telling how far we can go or what we can do."
Brigham, a senior from Rumson, N.J., finished his final season as an All-ACC selection and District II's top-rated golfer with a 72.07 stroke average. He recorded six top-10 finishes and 10 top-15 results in 12 tournaments. He had 14 under-par scores in 29 rounds, including nine rounds in the 60s, and matched his career best score with the 66 at Liberty.
MacWhinnie became one of the Terps' most consistent performers by shaving more than 1.5 strokes off his fall stroke average and finishing the spring regular season with the Terps' second-best mark at 73.56. The Pittsburgh, Pa. native recorded Maryland's low individual score in two spring tournaments and had three top-10 finishes in the spring, including a tie for third at the Colonial Intercollegiate in Williamsburg, Va.
Junior John Moheyer (Lima, Ohio), who tied Brigham for District II's best fall stroke average at 71.73, recovered from a slow start in the spring to average 72.63 over his last eight rounds. Sophomore Tim Kane (Simsbury, Conn.) averaged 75.56 for the season, while senior Pete Toole (Lancaster, Pa.) shot 75.62 for 11 tournaments and Fenstermaker finished with a 74.90 average over four tournaments.
Hanna was pleased with his team's effort down the stretch and confident that the Terps could make some noise in the NCAA Championships.
"Coming out in the spring, we didn't play what I thought we were capable of playing, but in our last three tournaments we had some good numbers and I'm excited about it," Hanna said. "The boys have worked hard."