Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series previewing the UC Davis fall sports.
At first blush, when a golfer the caliber of UC Davis’ Tyler Raber graduates, it might become a head-scratching moment for most college teams.
“It’s pretty hard to replace a Tyler Raber, not from just a golf aspect because, obviously, he’s one of our most accomplished golfers ever, but he’s just a great guy,” veteran Aggie links coach Cy Williams explains. “He is fun to be around, always happy, a leader.”
Raber’s eight sub-70 rounds led his Aggies to repeated top-tier tournament finishes last season — eventually helping the school earn a 60th-place national ranking. Raber’s best outing was a team-low 65 in the third round of the U.S. International last March.
The Davis High graduate earned an at-large NCAA berth this past season.
After UCD, Raber has pointed himself toward a promising career with a handful of meaningful tourney finishes this summer (including winning the Pacific Coast Amateur crown).
However, when Life Without Raber officially begins Sept. 16-17 at the Husky Invitational, Williams knows he has more clubs in the bag.
“Tyler was not the player he is now when he was a freshman,” Williams continues.
Sure, when he arrived, he was good. But Williams and the stiff competition that UCD seeks made Raber what he is today.
Williams sees the same progress in a handful of his current ball-strikers.
“We really do have other guys who were as good as Raber as freshmen; guys who are improving,” the coach promises.
Seniors Matt Hansen and Jonny Baxter (Amador Valley) are perfect examples of Aggies ready for break-out years.
“Ah, Silent Jonny B.,” Williams says with a laugh. “Not a lot of vocabulary. … He’s one of the most quiet guys we’ve ever had. He puts his head down and just works. He’s going to be a guy who I’d be very surprised if he’s not in our top three this year.
“He walked on, didn’t make it two years in a row (and now) he’s one of our most reliable starters.”
Baxter was five times under 70 as a junior.
Hansen, highly recruited and a three-year contributor, served notice last spring that his final Aggie campaign will be meaningful.
Hansen (Morro Bay) had three rounds in the 60s and was one of the state’s more consistent players.
“Matt’s going to be playing professional golf for his career. Period,” his mentor explains. “That’s what he’s going to do … and that’s what he’s working toward.”
Williams says his responsibility to Hansen includes “supporting him, helping him get all he can out of his senior year before he turns pro.
“He’s our leader and if he’s not our No. 1 player, we’re going to be an amazing team.”
Well, coach, brace yourself …
In addition to Baxter and Hansen, Aggies Ben Corfee and Luke Vivolo can play big-time college golf.
Sophomore Corfee, an El Macero native who played for Jesuit, could “follow in Tyler’s footsteps.”
“In the last two events (Winchester Classic and Big West), he was our medalist,” Williams adds. “He’s very talented, works hard and is one of the guys who wants to be great. Ben is a coach’s delight.”
Then there’s junior Vivolo, whose eventful summer included a regional U.S. Amateur win at Pasatiempo, resulting in a date at the nationals in Brookline, Mass.
“He’s another guy who has the talent to be a top player,” Williams says. “He was a starter in every tournament but one as a freshman. I wanted him working on technical stuff and he went to Matt Hansen’s swing pro. He did an amazing job … improved a lot.”
Vivolo is a Carmel High graduate.
So how does Williams get his charges ready?
“The main thing is try not to screw ‘em up,” Williams says with a chuckle. “It’s not like football … (where) you’ve got everybody there to work on timing, plays. (Our golfers) know how to get ready for tournaments, and everybody is a little different.”
Williams knows one golfer might want to play to get competition-ready, another could spend mega-hours on the practice range, while others might be working on conditioning, sand play or putting.
Collegiate team golf sends five-man contingents to tournaments — and the depth of these Aggies might put the Blue-and-Gold high on many a leader board.
The 11-event schedule — which is split into fall and spring portions — ends just before the Big West Conference shootout in April.
Williams is delighted with the slate, which includes The Prestige at PGA West (La Quinta). The tournament, which is hosted by Stanford and UCD, features USC, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Texas Tech, LSU, Pepperdine, San Diego and others in the challenging 2013 field.
Williams and his team were disappointed in not getting an invite to the 2012 NCAA tournament. The Aggies were the only squad ranked 68th or under that wasn’t involved.
A good schedule — combined with strong finishes — should fix that oversight, but when does a coach sit back and say, “Hmmm. So this is who we are?”
“Really, you’re only as good as your next event,” Williams offers. “You go along and see who your starters are, you see who is competing for starting spots, what they need to work on and see who is actually doing it.
“Who we are? That’s a tough one to answer. I hope I have that answer sooner than later.”
Notes: Williams enters his 19th year as coach and credits former mentor Jim Sochor for invaluable lessons over the years. … Ex-Aggie player Todd Hammond is in his 12th year as Williams’ assistant. … Other golf team members include Will Brink, Mike Brockington, Josh Granger, Nicolas Noya and the redshirting Matt Seramin, who will attend to his landscape architecture major’s lab classes and play as a fifth-year senior next year.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.