Oklahoma City University fields a team loaded with experience and determination to finish strong this season.
OCU opens the 2016 spring season tied for second in the NAIA men’s golf rankings with eyes on contending for the NAIA title.
The Stars won six tournaments in 2014-15 including their 20th Sooner Athletic Conference championship. OCU tied for eighth in the NAIA championships last year.
"Six of my 12 players are seniors," OCU head coach Kyle Blaser said. "There are a lot of quality golfers that are departing our program after this year, so I want to push these seniors out on top. That is my goal. We are working Saturdays and Sundays. We are working our butts off to accomplish that goal."
The Stars travel to Phoenix for the Arizona Christian Invitational on Monday and Tuesday at the Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix.
"University of British Columbia is coming down, they are tied with us at No. 2," Said Blaser. "Johnson and Wales (Fla.), Grand View (Iowa) and Arizona Christian are all top-10 teams, so it’s going to be a good field. I’m excited to play in some good weather."
OCU won three of the four events played in this fall, while finishing second to fourth-ranked Coastal Georgia in the NAIA Preview by three strokes. Individually, Rupert Kaminski won the Mid-South crown with a 67-70-72–209 card, and Anthony Marchesani fired a 73-70–143 to capture the NAIA preview title.
"We had a good fall semester," said Blaser. "We try to win all the tournaments we play and winning three out of four is okay for us. I’m excited about this spring. We have a lot of experience. I got a pretty good predicament. I have depth. We finished first in a tournament, and our second squad finished fourth."
Marchesani, a senior from Rosebud, Victoria, Australia, tied for seventh in the U.C. Ferguson Classic and shared sixth place in the Mid-South. The three-time all-American led the Stars with a 72.09 strokes per round average in the fall.
"Anthony has a chance to be the national player of the year," Blaser said. "He is the second-ranked player in the country."
Matthew Cheung, a junior from Brisbane, Australia, averaged the second-best stroke average on the team in the fall with 72.25 per round. The two-time all-American finished third in the U.C. Ferguson Classic, while sharing fourth and eighth place at the Southern Plains Intercollegiate and the NAIA Preview, respectively.
"He keeps getting better and better," Blaser said. "I look for him to continue greatness. I think the sky is the limit for him. He can fire some numbers that can come close to setting some course records. I look for him to be a contender in the national championships."
Kaminski, a freshman from Johannesburg, South Africa, had a share of fourth in the U.C. Ferguson Classic and tied for sixth in the Southern Plains Intercollegiate. He averaged 72.45 shots per round in the fall.
"Kaminski is the 180th-ranked player in the world," said Blaser. "He is solid. His bad rounds are good rounds for most. I look forward to Rupert and Matthew to jump into the mix with the seniors to really push and contribute."
Issa Abou el Ela, Jett Johnson, Scott Verplank and Jamie Warman all are closing out their collegiate careers as seniors, while Juniors Brett Dixon and Wyatt Robson round out the returning Stars.
Abou el Ela of Alexandria, Egypt finished a career-best second place in the Southern Plains Intercollegiate with a 70-72-73–215 card. He averaged 73.00 strokes a round in three events in the fall.
"Very dedicated. If the golf course is open, he is out there practicing," said Blaser. "He has so much talent, the way he hits the golf ball. If we can fine tune some of his short game, he may be the best player we got. That’s how talented the kid is and how hard he works. So I’m excited about Issa."
Verplank of Edmond, played in two events in the fall, averaging 75.33 shots per round. He was a third-team all-American in 2013-14.
"He works hard, and his golf game is good enough to definitely be a contributor," Blaser said. "I look for him to have a good spring. He is focused, and he will be a competitive person on our roster."
Warman of Perth, Western Australia, Australia placed eighth last year in the SAC Championships and earned first-team all-American honors. He averaged 75.50 shots per round in two events in the fall.
"Right now Jamie is playing really well," Blaser said. "I look forward to Jamie to continuing his ascent to the top. I talked to Jamie about no regrets, and I think he is going to take that to heart. When he is done with golf here at OCU, I think he is not going to have any regrets."
Johnson of Norman, carded a 71-79-75–225 in the Southern Plains Intercollegiate for a tie of 16th place. In three events this fall, he averaged 75.78 strokes per round.
"Jett is going to be right in the mix," Blaser said. "Jett is a scrapper, a work-hard golfaholic. He fights hard, and if he gets hot, he’s tough to beat. He has had some really good tournaments"
Dixon of Trinidad, Colo., had an 80.50 stroke average in six rounds in the fall.
"Dixon was recruited here to play baseball, and we decided he was a pretty good golfer too," Blaser said. "Brett has really improved. His scoring averages from last semester to now are dropping significantly. He pushes the guys academically, he pushes them in every aspect."
Robson of Ada, through six rounds in the fall hit an average of 79.17 per round.
"Wyatt struggled a bit with his game, but he is trying to find it," Blaser said. "He is starting to play better. I hope he comes in and competes. Great kid, he has another year so I hopefully he gets it going in the right direction this year so he can build on it for next year."
New to the Stars’ roster this season are freshman Kaminski and Niccolo Nespoli, while Zac Oliver comes by way of transfer from Oklahoma Baptist.
Last year for OBU, Oliver, a senior from Checotah, received second-team all-American accolades and captured the individual SAC title on a birdie putt in the second playoff hole to edge his future teammate Marchesani. Oliver averaged 74.64 strokes per round in the fall with his best finish being a 77-74-65–216 card at The Mid-South for a share of 10th place.
"Zac has been a big contributor in the fall," Blaser said. "He shoots some low numbers. Zac is currently struggling a little bit with his game, but when it warms up and Zac gets in his grove, he is a tough competitor and hard to beat."
Nespoli of Milan, Italy, did not compete in any events in the fall.
"He is starting to play better," Blaser said. "I’m going to sit him down to see if he wants to redshirt. When he got here his scores were in the 80s, now he is getting in the 70s consistently."
The 2016 NAIA Championships are held at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., on May 24-27. The Stars have won national championships in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013. OCU took SAC titles in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
"I think the experience and the depth that we got will really have us prepared to play well in Illinois," Blaser said. "Another thing we got is, we’ve been up there several times. We’ve played national championships up there and we’ve won up there. They should be comfortable this year and they should be confident. We aren’t ranked No. 1 in the country, but I think we are the team to beat. You’re going to have to bring it if you’re going to beat us."