John Denton's Knights Insider: Men's Golf Looking to Continue Successful Year

May 17, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF entered this year's Conference USA Men's Golf Championship as the two-time winners of the event, but there always seemed to be annoying whispers that accompanied the Knights' accomplishments.

Sure, UCF won the league titles in 2009 and 2010, but those crowns came close to home at the RedTail Golf Club in nearby Sorrento. Some wondered - doubted even - whether or not the Knights could pull off the feat again this season with the C-USA championships moving to Texarkana, Arkansas.

``Our guys had on their minds that winning away from home was really important to them,'' UCF coach Bryce Wallor said. ``We had won in Orlando and we heard some comments like, `Well, they're playing at home' and `Well, they are playing on their own grass,' and `They don't even have to travel.' A lot of people made a lot of excuses for why we won in the past and it kind of made the hairs on the back of the necks of our guys stand up. We were determined to go off to another site and be successful.''

Successful the Knights were for a third-straight season, doing so this time in impressive come-from-behind fashion. Playing in windy conditions early in the tournament, UCF trailed by eight strokes after day one and was tied for third after 36 holes. But the Knights blew away the field on the final day - improving their team score by 13 shots from the first round and nine shots from the second round - to claim a third title in a row.

The Knights will hit the road again this week when they compete in the 14-team NCAA Regional Tournament in Ocala. In the NCAA Regionals for fifth-straight year, UCF is seeded sixth, and the top five scoring teams in the field advance to the NCAA Championship to be played May 31-June 5 in Stillwater, Okla.

With C-USA Freshman of the Year Greg Eason and juniors Brad Schneider and Connor Arendell - all of whom shot below-par scores in the final round of the C-USA tournament - Wallor feels like his Knights have the talent to make a special run all the way to the NCAA Championship later this month. After all, the Knights won three tournaments this year, competed closely with Florida and finished ahead of Oregon and NC State - all teams in the same region with the Knights.

``I like our chances,'' Wallor said. ``Of the teams seeded ahead of us, we've had some success and had some wins. Our guys look at those programs and realize that we've beaten them once before. It's not guaranteed that we'll do it again, but we know there's an opportunity there for us to do it. If our guys play their best, the sky is the limit. Regional qualifying is very simple - go in and play your best golf, make good, aggressive decisions and try to play your way into the national championship.''

The Knights played themselves into a third straight C-USA title by building some quality depth on the roster. In all, UCF had 50 rounds of par-or-better this season, five golfers had low rounds in the 60s and there were 16 top-10 finishes.

Eason, the native of Leicester City, England, has a bright future ahead of him. This season, he posted a with win in the Adams Cup of Newport, a runner-up finish at the USF Invitational, a third-place finish at Rio Pinar in mid-March and a runner-up run in the C-USA Championship. He had 17 rounds at par-or-better and seven top-10 finishes.

``Greg has a lot of things going for him, but his best feature is his ability to be coached. He has allowed myself and assistant coach Toby Ragland to work with him on his golf game and his course management,'' Wallor said. ``If you have a suggestion for him, he talks to you about it and then he goes and does it. He's bought into everything we've asked him to do. He's been so coachable and that sets him apart. He's extremely athletic, hits the ball very long and has a lot of tools to work with.''

And for all of his talent, Eason ranks third on the team when it comes to driving distance. Nuno Henriques, the team's only senior, had an impressive 72.9 stroke average in 26 rounds over nine events this season. Schneider, a Valrico native, had eight rounds this season at par-or-better and shot 74 on average in 10 events. Arendell, a Cape Coral native who transferred from Louisville two years ago, had nine rounds at par-or-better, took top honors at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate Tournament (5-under-par) and notched four top-10 finishes on the season.

Wallor said the reason behind his team's steady growth this season and tremendous depth is because of the tireless work ethic of the team. With three-straight C-USA titles in the fold, a culture of success has been established, and Wallor said that success has just driven his team to continue to work harder than ever.

Wallor said the team practices five days a week with weights and range work sprinkled in. But it's not uncommon for him to show up at the course or driving range early in the morning or late in the day and see his players working on their games. Needless to say, it brings a smile to the coach's face.

``It's unbelievable. I do some instruction for professional players outside of this job and when I go out to that facility on the weekend, our guys are out there practicing at 8 o'clock in the morning. And if I'm back at 5, they're still out there. There's somebody on our team working on their golf game all of the time,'' Wallor said in amazement. ``If you want to be a successful professional player somewhere down the line, 20 hours a week for the NCAA limit isn't going to cut it. My kids are aware of that, and all of them across the board - from seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen - are working so diligently. I couldn't be more proud of them.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.