Friday Feature - Stephan Stallworth Talks WAC Golf

San Jose State will be the only team at the Western Athletic Conference Men’s Golf Championship to have three freshmen in the lineup when the 54-hole tournament starts April 28 at the Cinnabar Hills Golf Club in south San Jose.

Last year, Stephan Stallworth was a freshman for the Spartans and he posted a top-20 finish at the WAC Championship thanks to a pair of one-under par 71’s in the final two rounds.

To Stallworth and San Jose State, the Spartans hope youth will be served. Peter Gibbs, Mark Hubbard and Miguel Camitoc are the three freshmen. Even Rosco Valentine, listed as a junior, is just in his second season of college golf. Valentine was fourth at the 2007 WAC Championship.

“We really don’t think about that. We have a lot of experience on this team. We’ve played a full year together so we’re not necessarily new to the game,” says Stallworth, a 2007 second-team All-WAC selection.

The Spartans had some very good moments last fall finishing fourth at a tournament in Las Vegas and sixth at the event hosted by Pacific with a school-record team score of 19-under par. The spring season has been more of a struggle, but the finish at the U.S. Intercollegiate at the Stanford Golf Course gives San Jose State a reason for optimism.

“We’re starting to come together. It will be interesting to see what happens,” says the San Diego native who plays right-handed despite signing his scorecard left-handed.

“There are ton of different ways to play the course and that’s what makes it a great course. You can hit driver, 3-wood or 2-iron off tees and sill make a lot of birdies. The key is to be patient, because the greens are very hard and very fast. It’s going to be a putting contest.”

Nevada is the defending team champion. The Wolf Pack hosted the 2007 championship. San Jose State hopes history repeats itself for the Spartans’ first WAC championship since joining the conference in 1996.

“Knowing what the slopes and tendencies are for the ball once it hits the green will be an advantage. Off the tee and into the greens, I don’t think we’ll have that much of an advantage. It’s such a wide-open course that you can make a mistake off the tee and still make a birdie,” says Stallworth, who leads the team with 12 of 30 rounds under par or at even par this season.

“It depends on the wind. If the wind is calm, you can expect a lot of under par rounds, at least 15 guys to be under par on any given day. If the wind blows, may be only a handful of guys will be under par. The wind can blow hard and swirl around and that can make the course a lot harder.”

When you go out to Cinnabar, pick from among any of the 15 threesomes and you will be right in the middle of team golf the basis of the game at the college level. Stallworth explains how five players covering as many as four holes at once execute as a team.

One of the things we’ve been working on is gaining momentum. One of the ways we do that is since we play one behind the other whenever somebody hits a good shot or somebody makes a putt, we try to harness it with a fist pump or something to show your teammates you’ve done something good,” says the 6-foot-4 business finance major. “When you see your teammate do something good, you feed off your teammate. That’s a way to transfer momentum. Once you capture momentum, everyone can feed off of each other. That’s one of the main things our coach has been stressing to us the last month and a half. We need to capture that momentum in order to succeed as a team.”

Team scoring involves taking the best four scores from the five-person team and adding them for a daily total. All 45 players from the nine schools also compete for the WAC individual championship. Stallworth has this advice when it comes to predicting the 2008 winner.

“If you go out to the (driving) range at the WAC, there is no way you’re going to tell who the good players are from the real good players. The only difference is on the putting green. That’s what separates the All-American from the player who is in the lineup,” he says.

Play begins each day at 7:30 a.m. The San Jose State tee times form the first hole in the opening round range from 8:15 to 8:51 a.m. (PDT). There is no admission charge and free parking is available at the golf course.