The Gonzaga men’s golf team has a goal to improve on the No. 175 national ranking it received last year. With almost an entire team returning and a talented transfer, that goal doesn’t look unrealistic.
Returning faces like redshirt junior Matthew Ruel and sophomores Brentt Salas and Grant Johnson intend to make big jumps in their game this year. Sophomore transfer Zach Stocker looks to contribute right off the bat as well.
“Summer is the time to go and make some changes,” Ruel said. “When you’re playing for the team in both fall and spring tournaments, you don’t have a whole lot of time to make a lot of changes.”
Johnson said that after the spring season, the golfers individually meet with head coach Robert Gray and assistant coach Ross Button, looking to make those improvements to their games.
“Over the summer, I spent a lot of time working on the short game, which includes chipping and putting,” Johnson said. “I definitely grew throughout the summer. I overall just want to make my golf game a bit more concise.”
Gray is heading into his 21st year as a coach for GU, with this being his 13th year as the men’s head coach following eight years working for both the men’s and women’s team. Button will be going into his second year as an assistant coach, after previously coaching for University of Idaho.
The golfers are looking forward to another year with these coaches, and said they value what each brings on and off the course.
“Both coaches have their different roles,” Johnson said.
Button followed Johnson for all 18 holes at last year’s West Coast Conference tournament, as coaches are allowed to follow the golfer and advise them on what steps to take during the match.
“Having coach Button helped me feel more calm, cool and collected,” Johnson said. “With coach Gray, who is PGA certified, he’s always a nice guy to go to and get a checkup on your golf game.”
With the veteran golfers looking to make improvements this year, the newcomer Stocker also aims to make a strong impression on the GU program.
After transferring from Spokane Community College, the Spokane Valley native is excited to start his new season. Stocker said he has been treated like family since the minute he stepped on campus.
“The transition has been super easy,” Stocker said. “The athletic staff has been fantastic with helping me get my classes and get everything I needed to be eligible. I got to play with the upperclassmen a lot this summer just from tournaments around Washington, and they’ve taken me under their wing.”
Johnson said Stocker will be one of the names to look out for on the team. Ruel also wants people to not overlook junior Cameron Nicklos, as Ruel said he’s primed to take a big leap this year.
“I can tell after one qualifier that his game has come a long way from last year,” Ruel said. “The competition this year is going to be tough. You can see some of the guys last year are already improved, so it makes me want to get better and play better.”
The team looks to improve on its national ranking, but that will be tough to come by against conference opponents Pepperdine and BYU, which rank 14th and 25th, respectively. After finishing eighth in the WCC tournament last year, Salas and the rest of the team have higher expectations.
“Coach always says we want to be in the top 60 [in the nation] and get an automatic bid for regionals,” Salas said. “I think that’s a big team goal for us. Obviously it’s a process, so we can’t expect to be top 60. We have to work toward it.”
Johnson said improvement will stem from individual growth throughout the team.
“If we individually focus on playing our best, playing smart golf, and making decisions that aren’t going to take huge penalties on our scores, I think it’s taking one step closer to being competitive with any school,” Johnson said.