Men's Golf: 2002-03 Season Review
It's almost scary to think, with all of the success of the 2002-03 UNM men's golf team, what might have happened had the team had some more veteran experience on the squad. After all, with just one senior on the team, second-year coach Glen Millican and his assistant Ryan Murphy pushed the Lobos to even further heights than in recent years. The Lobos won their first-ever Mountain West Conference Tournament title and went on to the NCAA Championships for the second time in as many years, bettering last year's 26th place finish with a 23rd place finish nationally. Throughout the season, though, there were some peaks and valleys to deal with as an injury felled one of the team's better players, and Millican and Murphy juggled the starting lineup in search of their best starting five.
The 2002 fall season began September 13, with the William H. Tucker Invitational, the UNM-hosted tournament in its 47th year. The Lobos were quick to flex their golf proficiency, as they sucessfully defended their Tucker title for only the second time in the history of the tournament. New Mexico (864) outdistanced UNLV by five strokes (869) for the team title while senior Michael Letzig, named one of Golf World's "50 Male Players to Watch" this season, took individual honors with a blistering 9-under par 207. It made him the first Lobo to win the individual title in five years, and for his efforts he was named the Golf World player of the week. Other Lobos had excellent showings as well, as Ian Medlock and Jim Anderson finished tied for 31st and tied for 27th, respectively, while sophomore Madalitso Muthiya finished tied for 12th place.
Both the varsity and junior varsity squads stayed hot through September.
The varsity team traveled to Frisco, Texas just two days after completion of the Tucker and posted a second place tie with Oklahoma University in the team standings at the Sooner Invitational. Letzig continued his golfing mastery, finishing in a tie for 2nd place on the individual board, while decorated freshman Jay Choi was not far behind, finishing in sole possession of 8th place. Muthiya finished in the top-20 for the second-straight tournament (17th place) while sophomore Jay Reynolds, playing in his first varsity event for the Lobos, recorded a tie for 20th place.
Meanwhile, the JV team was having success as well.
At its first tournament of the year, the Falcon-Antigua Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Medlock, along with Jeff Briggs, Tyler Symons, Jeb Grueneberger and David Schultz, took third place overall at the 27-team tournament, ahead of many top varsity squads from across the nation. Briggs was the Lobos' top individual (T19th) followed by Medlock (T23rd).
Following a three-week layoff, the varsity squad picked up competition again at the Club Glove Intercollegiate in Somis, California on October 7. Not only did the Lobos keep up their torrid pace, finishing in 4th place for their third consecutive top-5 finish, but Choi outdistanced the individual competition to finish in a tie for 1st place in just his third collegiate varsity outing. Since no playoff occurred, Choi was credited with a win, and he became the first true male UNM freshman to win a golf tournament.
The JV team had perhaps its most outstanding outing of the year at the WNMU Fall Intercollegiate, where they took top team honors with a scorching 27-under par 837, and had three of its individuals finish sixth or better. Medlock was the individual champion, and his 15-under par 201 was aided by a second-round 64, which tied him for the second-lowest single round in UNM history. His total of 201 also tied him for the second-lowest round of 54 in UNM history.
The varsity Lobos then closed out their fall season October 21-22, with a 5th place finish at the Barona Collegiate Cup in Lakeside, California, to mark their fourth-straight top-5 finish of the fall season. This time, it was Muthiya's turn to shine, as he led all UNM individuals to finish in a tie for 9th place. Letzig was not far behind (17th place) and Schultz, playing in his first varsity action of the year, played to an admirable tie for 21st place.
The Lobos continued their pace in the spring, beginning with the PING Arizona Intercollegiate on February 3.
New Mexico finished tied for 6th place there, led once again by Letzig and his 7-under par 206, then went on to the John Burns Intercollegiate February 19. But the PING Intercollegiate also marked the last competition in some time for Reynolds who hurt his back and could not finish his last round. He would remain out of competition for New Mexico until the MWC Championships in May.
Meanwhile, at the soft fairways and greens of the Leleihua Golf Course in Wahiawa, Hawaii, the Lobos returned to the top-5, finishing tied for second place (850, -14), seven strokes behind team champs Arizona. Choi had his second top-10 individual finish, with a tie for 9th place, to lead the Lobo individuals.
In the JV team's final competition of the year, the UC-Riverside Braveheart Classic March 3 in Beaumont, California, the team inexplicably finished in 13th place, as no individual could put up par-or-better numbers. The slow March start was also extended to the varsity team, which played in three tournaments during the month.
At the Toyota Men's Collegiate March 7-9, the Lobos struggled to a 13th place finish in the talent-laden lineup which featured a win by eventual NCAA Championship runner-up Oklahoma State. Medlock was the only Lobo to shoot under par (215, -1), while Letzig had an uncharacteristic 34th place finish, five strokes behind Medlock. New Mexico's woes would continue at the Morris Williams Intercollegiate March 17-18 in Austin, Texas. The Lobos were again surrounded by the nation's top talent, as OSU took top honors again, but the Lobos managed only a 15th place finish, though Letzig rebounded nicely with a 3-under par 213 to finish in 13th place among the individuals.
March mercifully ended in a good way for New Mexico. At the National Invitational Tournament, March 30-April 1, the Lobos once again had their mojo working, taking second place overall. Letzig stayed hot, finishing tied for second place, while Muthiya was close behind at 10th place. Muthiya's strong tournament play was marked by a second-round 67, his lowest round of the season.
But in the Lobos' only tournament in April, the New Mexico linksters slipped once again at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational in Tempe, Arizona. New Mexico took 14th place while Letzig was the only Lobo to finish in the top-20, as he carded a 7-under par 209. In the second round of play, Letzig shot a 64 which tied him for the second lowest round in UNM history. He also accomplished the same feat in 2001, at the John Burns Invite, so he in effect tied himself, Medlock and former Lobos Wil Collins and Doug LaBelle.
And the Lobos got hot when it counted: in the postseason.
New Mexico roared to their first Mountain West Conference Championship title, outdistancing BYU by an unbelievable nine strokes. Letzig posted his second individual win of the year while Muthiya, Medlock and a newly-inserted Reynolds all finished tied for 10th place. Following the tournament, Letzig was named MWC Player of the Year and Millican was named Coach of the Year in only his second year at the helm of the New Mexico ship.
Then at the NCAA West Regional Championship, May 15-17, the Lobos did not repeat as regional champs, but they did finish tied for 5th place to guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA Championship field for the second consecutive year and the 12th time in the last 14 years. Letzig lived up to his Mountain West billing, racing out to a first place finish -- his third of the year and second consecutive -- with an 8-under par 208. Choi also made a return to the top-20, finishing tied for 16th place to aid the Lobos.
Things looked promising for the Lobos, entering the 2003 NCAA Championship at the Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma. But after a respectable opening round of 309, the Lobos posted a 314 in round two and a 305 in round three to miss the final cut and finish in 23rd place unofficially. It seemed that every single team had problems with the rough conditions, as no team finished under par and individually for the Lobos, Letzig was 10-over par to finish tied for 34th place while Choi was the Lobos' next-highest finisher at 54th place.
Nevertheless, it couldn't mar what had
been an excellent season for New Mexico. Following the championship, the Golf Coaches Association of America named Millican the top coach of the Southwest Region while Letzig was named a PING second-team All-American. In addition, Letzig, Medlock and Choi were all named to the Southwest region's PING All-Region team. Medlock also was named a Cleveland Golf All-America Scholar due to his hard work in the classroom.