ORLANDO, FLA. - After a highly successful year for the Seton Hall men's golf team, which included three team titles, the Pirates will set their sights on the BIG EAST Championship. This year, the conference's marquee event will take place at Reunion Resort and Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., April 29 - May 1.
Hosted by USF, the 33rd annual championship will be held on the Resort's Watson Course. Highlighted by fast, firm and wide rolling fairways, a variety of strategically placed bunkers and large greens, the 7,257 yard, par 72 Watson Course, a Signature Design by Tom Watson, is as much about strategy as it is about length. Demanding a well thought out approach from every player regardless of skill level, this course puts a premium on a solid short game with spacious green complexes where club selection can vary from putter to lob wedge to three-wood.
Last year, the Pirates placed ninth in the 12-team field, a somewhat disappointing finish after three straight years of placing among the top-third of the conference. Seton Hall fired a 54-over-par, 300-304-302-906, at Innisbrook's acclaimed Copperhead Course. Brandon Park (Weston, Fla.) shot an ultra-consistent 9-over-par, 74-74-74-222, to tie for 10th among all individual golfers. Days later, Park was named to his second consecutive All-BIG EAST team.
Troy Spencer (High Point, N.C.) finished just one stroke behind Park with a 10-over-par, 72-77-74-223, to tie for 16th place overall.
John Dawson Neufeld (Calgary, Canada) was a third strong Pirate finisher. He tied for 27th place with a 13-over-par, 75-81-79-235.
All three will return for another shot at glory in this year's championship. They'll be joined by sophomore Gary Dunne (Wicklow, Ireland) and freshman Derrick Kim (New City, N.Y.). Both of which, are making their BIG EAST Championship debut.
"We are playing our best golf of the year right now," said Head Coach Clay White. "All five of our golfers have shown the ability to lead this year. If we put it all together, we have a very legitimate chance to take home the hardware this week. I'm excited with the opportunity this team has before it."
2011-12 Stroke Average: 73.24
2012 Spring Stroke Average: 73.65
Throughout his career, Spencer has established himself as one of the team's most reliable and consistent performers. This season, he has carded an 80 on just a single occasion, bouncing back to shoot a season-low 68 the next day at the Big 5 Classic earlier this fall. This spring, Spencer has regularly turned in scores in the low 70s, emerging as the squad's stroke average leader. He enters the BIG EAST Championship in impressive form, coming off two consecutive top-10 finishes at the Yale Spring Opener (fourth) and as a part of the Pirates' team victory at the Manor Intercollegiate (t-sixth).
In three previous appearances at the conference championship, Spencer has never finished outside the top-20 on the individual leaderboard. His best finish came as a freshman, in 2009, when he shot a steady 3-over-par, 74-73-72-219, to wrap up play in a tie for 12th place. Last season, he fired a 10-over-par, 72-77-74 to tie for 16th place, only one shot outside the top-10.
JOHN DAWSON NEUFELD
2011-12 Stroke Average: 74.83
2012 Spring Stroke Average: 72.91
In his second year on the squad, Neufeld is playing the best golf of his collegiate career in recent months. After an up and down fall, Neufeld has found a groove; shaving nearly four strokes off his stroke average from the fall and posting a team-best average in the spring. He was a key force in the two team tournament victories for the Pirates since the beginning of the New Year, placing in a tie for fifth at the Fireline Towson Invitational and finishing tied for sixth at the Manor Intercollegiate. Neufeld has proven the ability to navigate the top of a leaderboard, having bested the competition over three days to take home the 2010 Rutgers Invitational title.
In 2011, Neufeld was the Pirates' third-best finisher at the BIG EAST Championship in his first entry in the event, finishing in a tie for 27th place (79-72-75-226, +13). His second-day 72 was the lowest single round score of any SHU player at the tournament.
2011-12 Stroke Average: 74.03
2012 Spring Stroke Average: 74.55
A two-time All-BIG EAST selection, Park has solidified a spot among the best golfers in the conference with his play over the last three years. In the fall, he finished atop the leaderboard in SHU's final two events for the first wins of his career, finishing in a tie for first at the Barnabas Health Intercollegiate after shooting a 69-75-144 and carding identical numbers to win the outright title at the Lehigh Invitational. The Florida native enters the BIG EAST Championship on the heels of his best finish of the spring, leading the Pirates to a team win at the Manor Intercollegiate by tying for third with a final scorecard that read 70-72-75-217, +1. It was his second straight top-10 finish.
Park has not shied away from the big stage of the conference championship in his two previous outings. He finished on top of the Pirates scorecard both as a freshman (t-eighth) and a sophomore (t-10th) and will be looking for a repeat performance this season. With two top-10 finishes at the BIG EAST Championships already to his credit, Park is primed to make a push to be among the leaders on the tournament's final day.
2011-12 Stroke Average: 76.58
2012 Spring Stroke Average: 74.82
In his second year, Dunne has been an emergent presence for the Pirates this season. After playing in just seven tournaments as a freshman, Dunne has been in the Pirate lineup for all but one contest in 2011-12. The Irishman has been vital to the team success SHU has enjoyed this year, improving his consistency and providing the support necessary to take home a team title. Dunne's game has bloomed along with spring, as he has dropped over three strokes off his average from the fall. In a SHU victory at the Fireline Towson Invitational, he fired a career-best three round score of 71-71-75-217 to finish just one stroke over par and in a tie for seventh place.
2011-12 Stroke Average: 76.11
2012 Spring Stroke Average: 76.45
Freshman Derrick Kim has already shown flashes of the ability that could help him develop into another in a long line of prolific Seton Hall golfers. His best individual performances have come in team victories for the Pirates. Kim placed seventh at the Lehigh Invitational in the fall and shot even-par over three rounds at the Fireline Towson Invitational to conclude the tournament in a tie for fifth place with teammate John Dawson Neufeld to pace the Pirates' effort. Most recently, he carded a nine-over-par, 75-74-76-225 to place in a tie for 14th as Seton Hall took home the Manor Intercollegiate title.
Kim will be the first freshman to head to the conference championship since Park in 2010.
The 2012 BIG EAST Championship will take place over three consecutive days with play beginning on Sunday, April 29 and going through Tuesday, May 1. Tee times for the first round were determined by a random blind drawing. The Pirates have been given a spot in the late group for day one as SHU will tee off with the top two seeds, Notre Dame and USF, at 10:30 a.m. from tee #1.
Pairings and groups for the subsequent rounds on Monday and Tuesday will be determined by the team's standing on the leader board.