Kansas University's men's golf team, which reached the NCAA championships four times in the 1990s and again in 2000, just might return to the national spotlight in 2003-04.
So says coach Ross Randall, whose Jayhawks have failed to qualify for nationals the past three springs.
"I'm very optimistic," said Randall, beginning his 25th season with the program. "We certainly hope to get back to a national Top 25 team."
Kansas will return all but one player from last year's squad, which notched 19th at the 2003 NCAA Regionals in Manhattan.
That player is two-time All-America Chris Marshall, who seemingly leaves behind a gap the size of a sand trap as he begins his professional career.
"We're gonna really miss him," Randall said. "We could always count on him to shoot really low scores."
Marshall, a Stanley native, had one of the lowest scoring averages in school history with a career stroke total of just under 73. He finished his KU career by shooting a blistering 66 at Manhattan's Colbert Hills.
"In the NCAAs, that's pretty good," Randall said.
Marshall earned back-to-back All Big 12 honors, leading KU in just about every category on the stat sheet with six top ten finishes.
He had the only individual win for the Jayhawks -- last November at the Prestige in California.
Tyler Hall of Wayne, N. J., will take over the role of lone senior this year.
"He's going to step up," Randall said. " He's had a good summer so far. I think he'll have the kind of leadership we'll need."
Randall is also expecting big things from Andrew Price, a Lake Forest, Ill., junior shot a 64 at the 2003 U.S. Open qualifier in suburban Chicago.
"He's had a spectacular summer so far," Randall said in July.
Marshall, Hall and Price were the only Jayhawks to compete in all of last year's 13 events.
Leawood junior Kevin Ward; Wichita soph Pete Krsnich; Norman, Okla., sophomore Ryan Rainer; and Leavenworth sophomore Jason Sigler may round out the top six lineup spots.
Lack of depth, which posed a problem for last year's squad, shouldn't prove troublesome this time with seven freshmen gaining sophomore status.
Four other second-year golfers were red-shirted and should contribute as well, Randall said. They include Tyler Docking, Barrett Martens, Free State High product Charlie Santualaria and Luke Trammell.
Two true freshmen, Joey Mundy from Mission Hills and John Newcomer from Topeka, are ready to go as well, but both appear to be red-shirt candidates.
"I think they're going to be good for us in the future, but like all freshman they have to get used to the jump in the competition," Randall said.
KU's squad might get even deeper as Randall is hoping to have the services of Washburn basketball/golf standout Gary Woodland, a former Shawnee Heights standout.
As of midsummer, Woodland's eligibility was still uncertain, but if all goes as planned he could be easily be vying for a top tee time.
"If he plays to his potential he can be a starter right away as a freshmen," Randall said. "He's very competitive. He's not afraid to shoot low scores. There's a knack to that. He has the mental attitude that he's going to birdie every hole. Marshall had it."
Regardless , Randall sees his squad as a young and talented bunch largely anchored by those bevy of sophomores.
"They're going to be the meat of our team," Randall said. "They made a lot of mistakes, but they learned a lot. I think we're really going to be competitive. Those (young teams) are fun teams because you know every year they're going to get better."
One place the whole team has excelled is in the classroom.
Last fall, the squad had the highest KU team GPA. The golfers finished second in the spring.
"It's fun to be around them when they're succeeding on both sides," Randall said.