If there’s one thing Kansas University men’s golf coach Kit Grove has learned during his time at KU, it has been how to lean on his team’s young talent.
Grove, a former KU golfer himself who enters his third season in charge of the Jayhawks, will look to a fairly inexperienced roster to replace four key seniors from last year’s team that finished the season in style with a seventh-place showing at the Big 12 Tournament.
There to aid his cause will be six returning letter winners and a trio of freshmen that will be counted on to contribute as the season progresses.
“Through my first two years as head coach, our better players have predominantly been true freshmen or sophomores. And that’s good and it’s bad. You hope they can get in there and compete and handle it.”
Expected to lead the way for KU during the 2009-10 season is one of those players, current junior Nate Barbee, who was among KU’s top players during 2008-09.
Last season, Barbee led the Jayhawks with a 73.12 scoring average and was also tops on the team with five top-20 finishes. For his career, the junior from Dakota Dunes, S.D., has nine top-20 finishes and a similar 73.82 scoring average.
“Nate is hands down my rock,” Grove said. “You don’t really have to tell him to do anything. He’s the hardest worker I’ve got, which I don’t think is coincidental. His car is in the parking lot more than anyone we have, and he really works hard and wants to get better every day.”
Other returning letter winners include: seniors Patrick Roth (13 career events) and Bryan Hackenberg (7); junior Bobby Knowles (17); and sophomores Ian Anson (9) and Blake Giroux (7). Anson and Giroux each have top-20 finishes under their belts.
Freshmen Chris Gilbert, of Simi Valley, Calif., Alex Gutesha, of Greenwood Village, Colo., and Dan Waite, of Surrey, England, round out the KU roster. Waite is Grove’s second straight recruit from the United Kingdom, as Anson also hails from Surrey.
This season also will be the first in 30 years that the KU men’s program will play without former coach and director of golf operations, Ross Randall, on hand to caddy. Randall served as the team’s head coach for 28 years before stepping into his director role in 2007. In June, Randall announced his retirement altogether, something Grove said would take awhile to get used to.
“For me it definitely will be a little odd,” Grove said. “We’re very close. It’s not going to be good and it’s not going to be bad, just different. It’ll probably be kind of weird because I’m sure we won’t have the conversations we used to have or at least not with the same frequency.”
Grove said Randall’s position had yet to be filled but that he expected it would be before the season begins. Randall’s departure only emphasizes the program’s out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new mentality, which seems to be perpetuated by the excitement of the team’s three freshmen, who asked if they could stay in town after freshman orientation.
“That’s kind of what we need,” Grove said. “If we can get some kids in here with the right attitude who are excited to be here and are a little fired up, that’ll get us going in the direction we want to go. It’s not that we’ve been complacent, but it’s almost been OK to not be good, and that’s not how I was raised and that’s not what this program’s all about.”