2008-09 UCF Men's Golf Preview

Sept. 9, 2008

The 2007-08 campaign was one to remember for the UCF men's golf team. The Knights won two tournaments, spent the majority of the year ranked in the top-25 nationally and participated in the NCAA West Regional in the spring.

What can the Knights do for an encore? For head coach Nick Clinard, the answer is easy.

"We have a really great group of golfers. Our goal is to be in the top 15 in the country and I think this group can achieve that," said Clinard.

The Knights return eight players from last season's squad, headlined by All-America candidates David Johnson and Greg Forest. Clinard also welcomes three talented newcomers to the Knights.

Clinard will have plenty of options as he sets his lineup for each tournament in 2008-09. A year ago, Clinard stated that his squad was the deepest since he took over the helm of the Knights in 2001. He might have to rethink that claim.

"The depth is great. My only concern is staying healthy. If we can stay healthy, we have the potential to be a very good team," added Clinard.

UCF's impressive batch of seniors includes two of the premier players in the country in Forest and Johnson. Both players helped guide the Knights to the postseason a year ago.

Clinard expects Johnson to be one of the country's top golfers. In his first campaign in Orlando after transferring from Brevard Community College, Johnson played in all 12 events in 2007-08. He recorded top-10 finishes on five occasions, posted a 73.2 stroke average and was named the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year.

Johnson excelled on the course during the offseason. In July, he advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Aurora, Colo. The tournament began with 156 golfers and he was one of the final four competitors in action. In early August, Johnson claimed the Florida State Amateur Match Play Championship in Vero Beach.

His strong play at the amateur events was no surprise to Clinard. "He has gotten better and better over the last year. He is a hard worker," said Clinard. "He is very diligent and disciplined."

Forest joined Johnson on the All-C-USA First Team a year ago. He competed in 11 events, posted four top-10 showings and registered a 73.3 stroke average. In February, he shared medalist honors with teammate Mike Stern at the Rio Pinar Invitational. Over the summer, Forest battled injuries as he participated in several amateur events. "If he can stay healthy, he is a huge talent. He is very gifted," said Clinard.

Clinard hopes that Kyle Davis, who played in one event last year, can contribute to the team after seeing limited time as a junior.

"We are looking for Kyle to step up in his senior year. He can be a huge component to our team this year."

Mike Stern had a strong campaign for the Knights last year. Stern played in eight events, including the NCAA West Regional, and had three top-20 finishes. He tied for first at the Rio Pinar Invitational in February. Stern carried his strong spring into the summer circuit. In July, he finished second at the Rice Planters Invitational in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

"Mike had a great summer," said Clinard. "His confidence is high. He has shown tremendous improvement from right now to where he was two years ago. He is not the same player."

Clinard expects Nuno Henriques to help the Knights achieve their goals this year. Henriques played in seven events last season. "He is a hard worker with unlimited potential," said Clinard.

Last season, Nico Donaldson participated in a pair of events. He will provide Clinard with more depth this year. "Nico is an extremely talented kid. Hopefully he can come in and be sharp mentally and be sharp with his short game," said Clinard.

A former junior college teammate of Johnson, Devin Spies brings impressive credentials to the Knights as he enters his first season with the squad. He garnered National Junior College Athletic Association All-America Second Team honors at Brevard Community College last year.

"Devin is athletic. He has so much potential and talent," said Clinard. "He brings a lot more depth to the program and a desire to succeed."

Another newcomer to watch for the Knights is Simon Ward. Ward has two years of eligibility after earning his undergraduate degree in Ireland. He brings ample international experience to the Knights. Ward helped lead Ireland to the 2007 European Team Championship title in Scotland and qualified fourth in the stroke-play portion of the British Amateur that same year.

"Simon is a star. He is an immediate impact type of player. I'm glad he is a Knight," said Clinard.

The lone sophomore on the roster, Kyle Cobb contributed for the Knights during the spring portion of the team's schedule last season. The Tallahassee native made his collegiate debut at the Rio Pinar Invitational in February and also participated in the Conference USA Championship and the NCAA West Regional. Cobb tied for eighth at the league event. He also had a strong summer campaign on the amateur circuit in Florida, highlighted by a second-place finish on the Collegiate Players Tour and a third-place showing at the Florida State Public Links Championship.

"He had a good end of the year. He worked hard over the summer and played pretty well," said Clinard. "Kyle has improved a great deal since he arrived as a freshman. His golf swing has gotten a lot better and his confidence has grown."

Brad Schneider redshirted last season. This year, Clinard hopes that the former junior and prep standout can stay healthy and crack UCF's lineup. "He has the talent and drive to play," said Clinard about the Valrico native.

The roster includes one true freshman - Blayne Barber. Barber starred on the amateur circuit in Florida, claiming the state junior championship in 2008 and 2006. Clinard thinks the rookie will play immediately.

"Blayne is an exceptional player," he said. "We look for him to step up and make the transition very easily. He should be a great college player."

The Schedule
Each season, UCF faces one of the most challenging schedules in the country. This year is no different. The squad will compete in five events in the fall and six tournaments during the spring.

The fall schedule begins with the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Georgia in mid-September. The following week, UCF heads to Illinois to participate in the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational for the second-consecutive year.

In October, the Knights will compete in two of the country's top events: the Prestige at PGA WEST in California, and the Isleworth-UCF Collegiate Invitational, which the team will host in nearby Windermere.

UCF made its debut at the Prestige at PGA WEST in 2007. The event is played on the Greg Norman Course and is hosted by Stanford and UC-Davis.

The three-day Isleworth-UCF Collegiate Invitational begins on Oct. 26 and includes 18 of the nation's top teams. The top-six squads in the country from a year ago, led by defending national champion UCLA, are all in the field for the fifth-annual tournament. Clinard's squad will conclude the fall at the WCU Intercollegiate in North Carolina in November.

"We consistently play one of the best schedules in the country. The strong schedule helps us prepare for the NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championship, which are our goals each year," said Clinard.

The Knights open play in the spring in February at the Gator Invitational in nearby Gainesville, Fla. From Feb. 23-24, UCF will host the Rio Pinar Invitational in Orlando. Last year, the Knights won the event.

UCF will compete in one event in March: the Hootie at Bulls Bay in South Carolina. April consists of three events, including the Augusta State Invitational in Georgia and the Bluegrass Invitational in Lexington, Ky. The team will not have to travel far for the C-USA Championship in April. The event will be held at the RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento, which is located just north of Orlando.