The UC Irvine men’s golf team finished eighth out of 15 teams this week at The MacKenzie Tournament held in Fairfax, Calif. John Chin and Jerry He placed 19th while the team altogether shot 565 over the course of two rounds. UCI’s roster includes three freshman, two juniors and two senior veterans Tim Cha and John Chin, the latter was named as one of the “Top 50 Players to Watch” this season by the Golf World Magazine annual college preview. Chin leads the team with a 71.39 stroke average from last season in which he notched six top-10 finishes. Their next tournament is the Del Walker Intercollegiate held at the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. The New University sat down with Coach Paul Smolinski to talk about the season and this year’s team.
Q: How do you think this 2009-2010 season will unfold?
A: Well, we just played in two tournaments so far. We played in Texas and finished fifth out of 17 teams. And then we played at the Meadow Club and the third round actually got rained out, so we only played two rounds. Overall, it has not been a bad start, but it has not been a great start, either. We have had some good rounds and I like the group that we have. They work hard and are going to have some good tournaments. We might have some inconsistency considering that we have younger guys that will be playing bigger roles. Also, some juniors that haven’t played too many tournaments in the past two years will now act as key players on this team. I’m excited about our group and I think that we will have a successful year. We’re going to be a team that gets better throughout the year, and I think we’re going to be pretty good when conference comes around, along with regionals and hopefully the NCAA championships.
Q: With three freshmen on board, what expectations do you have for them this season?
A: Well, I think Jerry He (first-year out of Shenzhen, China) so far has been our top guy and has played well in qualifying. He didn’t play great in Texas but then finished in the top 20 at the Meadow Club this week. He is a season player — even though he is a freshman here, he has played all over the world. For him, this is not much of a transition for college golf. It’s not much different than from what he’s been doing, so I’m really counting on him to do well as a freshman this year and I think that he’s mature enough to do it. His game is definitely at a level to do well and I think he’ll play a key role for our successes.
Q: What key roles do you expect the two seniors Tim Cha and Jerry Chin to play as veterans of this team?
A: As our two seniors, they have a lot of experience from college golf and other tournaments. They have seen and played a lot of the courses in the past that they will play again this season. I expect them to be the leaders on the team on the golf course and off the golf course, for that matter. I think a lot is riding on their shoulders. We don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but they know their positions and their responsibilities this year. These players along with Max Greil have played big tournaments in this past like the U.S. Amateur and the USGA championship. All that experience helps a player become ultimately better. Jerry is not playing his best golf right now. He had a decent round at the Meadow Club and didn’t play too well in Texas. He has had a rough stretch where he has not felt too comfortable with his game and hasn’t played up to his ability in the past couple of months. I think he’s coming into form now and has his best golf in front of him.
Q: How do you treat each tournament with respect to their importance in the season?
A: Well in my mind, I treat each tournament as the same as the NCAA championship. They all count toward the rankings and can help or hurt us. In order to make the playoffs and the regionals, we will have to score well in every tournament. Some fields are stronger than others, but I think the guys get fired up during these ones especially. Ultimately [the tournaments] are all important whether they have strong teams or not. Certainly within our conference, schools like UC Davis have grown into our main rival and even programs like Pacific have had teams that can be very competitive.
Q: Good luck on your upcoming season.
A: Thank you, I know that we’ll have a good year. Long Beach this week will be a good test for us and we’ll see how we are at that point. That tournament counts six players instead of the usual five. Usually, we have five players and count four scores. But in Long Beach, we will be having six guys play and count five scores. It goes well for us because we have a deep team. In our roster we have one through eight guys who are capable of playing well and shooting low scores. Hopefully that will show up during those tournament results.