Last season, the USC men’s golf team walked onto every course with a veritable who’s who of amateur golfers. The Trojans counted four All-Americans among their numbers and entered last season with a gaudy preseason ranking. Injuries and a late-season swoon caused USC to dip in the polls, but the team still finished last season the No. 3 team in the country.
Three key players from that team are now playing professional golf. Tom Glissmeyer graduated, while Jamie Lovemark and Tim Sluiter left school early to join him on the PGA Tour.
The onus of replacing them falls on fourth-year coach Chris Zambri, who acknowledged it would be difficult to replace their contributions.
“It’s hard because we’re not like 11 on offense and 11 on defense and you lose [five or seven] guys,” Zambri said. “We’re losing 40 percent of our scoring.”
That shouldn’t paint a gloomy picture of the team’s prospects, however. There are still several talented golfers in the program. Foremost among these players is junior Matthew Giles, who earned first-team All-American honors last year. His return helps soften the blow from the early defections by Lovemark and Sluiter.
“He needs to lead us big time, which means he needs to go out and do what he did last year,” Zambri said. “I want him to play like he did last year but I want him to be better. I want him to win tournaments.”
Giles had seven top-7 finishes last season but failed to take first place in any tournament. Zambri expects him to reverse that trend this year.
“Here’s a kid who wants to play pro golf, so he better have the same expectations or he needs to get a really good degree,” Zambri said. “If you plan on getting out there and playing against the big boys then you should be able to really fare well against the college level.”
Giles has the most impressive resumé of any returning Trojan, but he is not the only talented player on the roster. Sophomore Steve Lim looks to build on a strong freshman campaign that saw him shoot a final-round 66 at the West Regional to help USC advance to the NCAA Championship. His ability to be a consistent scoring option will be important for the Trojans.
Another player coming in with high expectations is highly touted freshman TJ Vogel, who brings his clubs and a recent Junior PGA Championship to USC. The Florida native won the championship this summer and should be an immediate contributor for the Trojans.
“When guys come out of the junior circuits with [a high] ranking and some good, solid wins under their belt, generally they come in and make an impact at this level,” Zambri said.
Vogel needs to be ready to compete right away if the Trojans wants to make noise this season in the Pac-10. An old adage in sports says improvement only comes by playing people better than you. USC will have ample opportunity this season to prove that theory correct. Seven teams in the conference — including the Trojans — are ranked among the top 25 schools in the nation, according to one preseason poll. Stanford, Washington and Arizona State are all ranked in the top six.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal year for the Pac-10,” Zambri said. “I think Stanford might be the best team that I’ve seen since I’ve been at USC, certainly the best team in the Pac-10.”
Zambri said his young players were lucky to have a lot of opportunities to measure themselves against teams as talented as Stanford and Washington.
“It’s going to be an uphill climb for us to be able to beat them,” he said. “It’ll be good for us. It’ll make us better.”
That uphill climb begins Friday when the Trojans open their season at the Olympia Fields Invitational in Chicago, Ill. The tournament should act as an early-season barometer for the Trojans as they take on conference foes Stanford and Arizona State.
“I think we’re in a position where we can be real competitive this year with some of our players from last year and definitely with some of our newer players,” Zambri said.