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PAC-10 MEN'S GOLF

New Coach Helps UCLA Win Title

May 01, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

O.D. Vincent came to UCLA planning to make the men's golf team one of the best in the nation. Little did he know it would happen in his first season as coach.

Continuing a meteoric rise Wednesday, UCLA rolled through the Pacific 10 Conference championships at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, posting a four-round team total of one-under par that was good for a 27-stroke victory over second-place Arizona.

Bruin senior John Merrick won the individual title, eagling the final two holes for a course-record 63 in the final round, leaving him 12-under for the tournament and 10 strokes ahead of defending champion Jim Seki of Stanford and Brady Stockton of Arizona State. Ricky Barnes of Arizona, the low amateur at the Masters, finished fourth at even par.

UCLA had not won a Pac-10 team title since 1985, the same year Duffy Waldorf became the last Bruin to win the individual title. UCLA has a national-best six tournament victories this season.

"It's weird," said Travis Johnson, a redshirt junior. "Before, we'd go to tournaments and we weren't even a factor. Now when we show up, everyone automatically knows we are one of the favorites."

Since winning its only national title in 1988, UCLA has been mostly an afterthought. The Bruins have qualified for the national finals only seven times since. The last Bruin victory in any tournament before this season came in 1998.

At the end of last season, UCLA was ranked No. 40 in the nation. They entered the Pac-10 championships this year ranked No. 11 and are now sure to crack the top 10.

"UCLA always had underachieving teams," Vincent said. "Coaching against them from Washington, I'd think, 'Man UCLA is going to be good this year.' That never really panned out."

Vincent, former coach at Washington, took over after Brad Sherfy was fired in June -- the first coaching change Dan Guerrero made as the Bruins' athletic director. Vincent wanted to bring intensity and a team-first mentality to the program.

The team has mandatory meetings every week and is required to dress in uniform for practice. Vincent has secured funding for an on-campus practice facility, the first in school history.

"I think O.D. has taken it to a new level," Merrick said. "Brad was a great coach, I just think O.D. is more of a new-age coach with more ideas."

Juniors Steve Conway and Roy Moon have improved the most under Vincent. Conway, who has two tournament victories, credits laser eye surgery. Moon said Vincent's arrival is a major factor.

"It's a better situation now," Moon said. "Brad was at practice all the time, but a lot of time he wasn't in the office. He lived in Camarillo so it was difficult. O.D. moved to West L.A. He's always really easy to get a hold of."

Sherfy deserves much of the credit for recruiting the team, and still feels part of it as he follows the results via the Internet. "You have to feel part of it," Sherfy said. "I built relationships with them."

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