By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
The 2012-13 University of New Mexico men’s golf season is long gone.
But hardly forgotten.
The 2013-14 edition of the Lobo men’s golf team officially gets underway Sunday when it plays 36 holes at the Gopher Invitational in Independence, Minn. The team will play another 18 holes Monday as it kicks off the new season.
It’s difficult not to reflect on the old season, considering the success that came with it. UNM finished fifth in the nation, reaching the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship for the first time. The team won five tournaments, had four runner-up results and finished in the top five in 13 of their 14 events last year.
That team, however, had seniors James Erkenbeck, John Catlin and Benjamin Bauch. Bauch had a 73.37 stroke average with three top 20 finishes, and he shot a 1-under 69 in the final stroke round at the NCAA Championship to help UNM qualify for the eight-team match-play portion.
Catlin, who was an honorable mention All-America in 2011-12 who finished with nine top-20 finishes last season and was the No. 7 golfer on UNM’s career low-stroke average list at 72.95 per round.
Erkenbeck? All he did was earn first-team All-America honors, earn the Mountain West Player of the Year award, win two tournaments – including the NCAA Columbus Regional – turn in 11 top-20 finishes and end his Lobo career No. 2 on the school’s all-time low-stroke average list at 72.25.
The two players returning from last year’s nationally ranked squad hope to use 2012-13 as a springboard for bigger and better things.
“Last year, the focus was on getting to nationals,” junior Victor Perez said. “This year, we should try to do better. We haven’t played a tournament yet, so it’s way too early to tell how we’re going to be, but hopefully, everybody here in their mind thinks we can win a national championship.”
“My freshman year, we missed qualifying for nationals by a stroke,” junior Gavin Green said. “Last year we grinded through NCAA Championship play. We were really close. This year, who knows – maybe we can win it. Why not?”
Coach Glen Millican likes the attitude of his returning veterans.
“You definitely want your best players to never be satisfied,” the 2012-13 Mountain West Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year finalist said. “That’s the best scenario that a coach can hope for.
“But we can’t skip any steps. We have a lot of golf to play between now and then. Most important thing now is to play good Sunday in 36 holes in Minnesota.”
The Lobos will head to the Gopher Invitational with a pretty good 1-2 punch. Green was a third-team All-America and All-MW performer in 2012-13 whose 71.93 strokes per-round average was the 10th best single-season performance in school history. He was the only Lobo to win his match-play competition against eventual national champion Alabama at the NCAA Championship and shot a 4-under 66 in the final round of stroke play to fuel UNM’s run to the final eight for match play.
Perez had seven top-20 finishes for the Lobos last season and actually has a lower career stroke average than Green. Perez’s 72.45 average strokes per round ranks fourth all-time at UNM. He is a two-time All-MW selection.
Joining Green and Perez in Minnesota will be junior Sean Romero, sophomore Joe Abella and freshman Andrej Bevins.
Romero was a starter as a true freshman in 2011-12 and has 18 career tournaments under his belt. Abella played in two tournaments for UNM last season, and Bevins comes to UNM as a top-10 high school player in the state of California.
Asked how much he and new assistant coach Jim Garren can learn about Abella and Bevins, Millican responded, “We’ll find out more than we know right now. We’re not going up there with any expectations, other than to be as ready as we can to play the best golf we can.”
Though the Lobos played in this event last season (finishing fifth among 15 teams), the course will be different and one that the team has not played before.
“I love going to tournaments where it’s the first time going there,” Millican said. “At least only the home team knows the course and not a lot of other teams so you don’t feel like you’re behind coming in.”
Millican said he tapped into Minnesota resident, PGA Tour pro and former Lobo Tim Herron for information on the course. Millican took the team to play at Las Campanas in Santa Fe last weekend in preparation because of the similarity of the big grass from tee to green to the one they’ll see Sunday.“That was a good experience for them, to get the routine down of how things will be like this weekend,” Millican said. “The most important thing is guys have an idea of how they’re going to play the golf course and control the things they can control. If they do that, that’s going to give them the best chance to play well, and that’s all we can do.”