UW Invite at Gold Mountain: Williams, Pan, Hughes gives Dawgs a strong top three

Here’s a story you’ll find in Monday’s print editions. And it will be online at kitsapsun.com later today.

By Chuck Stark
BREMERTON – Led by a Walker Cup player, the most decorated recruit in school history and an unsung player with big-time potential, the Washington Huskies are optimistic about their prospects for the 2011-12 season.
Washington kicks it off by hosting the Kikkor Golf Husky Invitational, a 54-hole tournament on Monday and Tuesday at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course.
“It’s nice to start out on a course you know well and play well,” Husky coach Matt Thurmond said of the Bremerton city-owned layout, which has become a home away from home for Washington. “We’re not guaranteed to have a good week, but things are certainly stacked in our favor.”
Course advantage or not – Washington hosted 2008 and 2010 NCAA regionals on the Olympic Course — there’s reason to believe the Huskies would be among the favorites on just about any track.
“Our top end has the potential to be better than any team we’ve ever had,” said Thurmond. “The big question on this team is at the bottom end. How will our four and five players play and do we have a six and seven who can fill in when needed?”
The top end is headed by Chris Williams, who in two years has established himself as one of the best players in Husky history.
Williams, the 20-year-old junior from Moscow, Idaho, won the Phil Mickelson Award as the NCCA’s  top freshman two years ago, and was a first-team all-Pac-10 selection as a sophomore – but filled with renewed confidence and a hot putter, his game took off over the summer. It took him all the way to Aberdeen, Scotland, where he was part of the U.S. Walker Cup team.
Williams qualified for the U.S. Open (during a sectional qualifier on the Olympic Course), and U.S. Amateur, won the Sahalee Players Championship and Pacific Coast  Amateur and when he kept shooting low numbers, it was impossible to ignore how he was playing.
“This summer was a real summer of maturation and settling in to be a great, great player,” Thurmond said of Williams.  “I think he’s segueing into having a great year. I think he’s ready for that.”
Williams is rated the No. 3 player on Golfweek’s Preseason Players to Watch list behind UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay — Williams’ foursome partner in the Walker Cup – and Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion.
Cheng-Tsung Pan is listed No. 3 on Golfweek’s Freshman to Watch list behind Texas’ Jordan Spieth – who won the U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain in July – and Patrick Rodgers of Stanford.
Pan grew up in Taiwan, and was a phenom at a young age. He enrolled at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.,  when he was 15 – the same year he became the youngest gofler reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur since Bobby Jones.
He’s the most high-profile recruit during Thurmond’s 11-year tenure at Washington.
“No question,” the UW coach said. ”He’s a 5 star.”
Pan ranked as high as No. 4 in Golfweek/amateur.com world rankings in June after finishing  No. 11 in 2010. He qualified for the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur this summer, was a semifinalist in match play at the Western Amateur, a prestigious tournament that draws the best field in amateur golf on a yearly basis. Pan was medalist of the Western Am in 2009 and  2010 and seventh in 2011.
“He’s pretty small in stature, but very efficient with is driver,” Thurmond said of Pan. “He’s got decent length but he’s not a bomber.”
Pan hits a lot of fairways and greens, and is unflappable on the course, said Thurmond.
“He doesn’t have explosive accuracy,” Thurmond said. “Chris Williams is explosive accurate. He can knock flags down all day. Pan’s always 15, 20 feet. He’s just really consistent and he’s way beyond his years as a chipper and wedge player.”
Charlie Hughes was a little known recruit “who screamed potential when we signed him,” Thurmond said of the Maple Ridge, British Columbia golfer. B.C. has been a mother lode for the Huskies over the years, producing NCAA champ James Lepp (who heads Kikkor Golf, the tournament sponsor for a second straight year) and former world No. 1 amateur Nick Taylor.
Hughes is coming off a sophomore year in which he had five top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Bandon Dunes Invitational. His stroke average (72.18) for the season was the 10th best in UW history.
While Williams and Pan are the bigger names, Thurmond’s hoping the twosome will motivate Hughes, a second-team all-Pac-10 selection last year.
“He certainly has the potential to be at the very top of college golf. As good as he is, he’s still got room for a lot of improvement,” Thurmond said. “Having Chris and Pan will only help Charlie. It will be hard to take the No. 1 spot from Chris, but I those guys in theory could all be No. 1.”
Trevor Simsby and Corey McElyea, sophomores from Santa Cruz and Carlsbad, Calif., complete the Husky lineup. McElyea played in 10 tournaments as a freshman; Simsby played in five events last year. Both had decent summers, joining Williams, Hughes and Pan in qualifying  for  the U.S. Amateur.
“They’re good players, but they’re not yet accomplished players,” Thurmond said. “They were up and down as freshman … you hope and believe they’ll be much more mature as sophomores.”

Larry Iverson of Kalispell, Mont., brothers Gerrit and Ty Chambers of Hockinson High in Brush Prairie, and Yifan Liu, a walk-on from China, will play as individuals on the Cascade Course. Their scores will not count toward the team scores.
San Diego State, which won seven tournaments a year ago and returns its entire team, is among the contenders  along with defending Pac-10 champ USC, Texas A&M, Oregon (which won the St. Mary’s Invitational last week), Oregon  State, and Long Beach State … Pepperdine is the defending champion, winning at Washington National in Auburn a year ago. … Washington State’s Kyle Hurt, a sophomore from Bainbridge, tied for 17th at Cougars’ Palouse Collegiate Invitational last week at the Palouse Ridge Golf Course in Pullman. … Former UW assistant Garrett Clegg is the first-year head coach at WSU. … A&M’s Cameron Peck, the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur  champion and top-ranked junior in the country that year, is from Olympia.  … Pre-tournament  festivities will be held tonight after the practice rounds are complete. Corn hole, the popular bean-bag toss game, and ping pong will be part of the fun. … The Huskies got in some practice holes at Gold Mountain on Thursday, played a full round Friday and stopped by Washington National for some more practice before going to the UW–Cal football game on Saturday. … Gold Mountain director of golf Scott Alexander is a volunteer assistant coach for the Huskies.

When: Monday (36 holes), Tuesday (18 holes), tee times 7:30 a.m. both days
Where: Gold Mountain Golf Club (Olympic Course)
Teams: BrighamYoung, Fresno State, Gonzaga, Long Beach State, Oregon, Oregon Staste, Pacific, Pepperdine, San Diego State, Santa Clara, SMU, Texas A&M, UC Davis, USC, Washington, Washington State.

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