UCLA Men's Golf Team Succeeds On, Off Green
Oct. 11, 2011
By Bill Bennett
UCLA Athletics' signature brand tagline 'Champions Made Here' is not limited to the Bruins' national success on the athletic field. It extends to UCLA's student-athletes' academic accolades as well. In the recently completed 2010-11 school year, the Bruins' classroom 'team champion' is Derek Freeman's men's golf squad.
Much like the term 'student-athlete,' Freeman's team is a perfect combination of athletic and academic accomplishments.
In the classroom, the Bruin golfers had a team grade-point-average (GPA) of 3.311, an increase of .51 from the previous year. Those academic accomplishments earned them the Donald R. Shepherd Award for Highest Team GPA, Highest Team GPA Men and Most Improved Team GPA.
On the links, the Bruin golfers were just as impressive.
Led by Patrick Cantlay, the world's No. 1-ranked amateur, UCLA placed first in the stroke play portion and tied for fifth in match play at the 2011 NCAA Championships. The team also won its first NCAA Regional crown since 2009. UCLA also won four additional tournament titles, and in the last four seasons under Freeman, the team has won 12 tournaments, including the 2008 NCAA Championship.
Meanwhile, the Bruins had four student-athletes earn Pac-10 All-Academic honors (Pedro Figueiredo, Bobby Lange, Connor Driscoll and Pontus Widegren), and four others - Cantlay, Gregor Main, Mario Clemens and Anton Arboleda - were multiple Athletic Director's Honor Roll selections.
"I truly believe that our mission is to make sure our student-athletes get a great education," said Freeman. "We provide them with that foundation here at UCLA, starting with our leadership from our athletic director and chancellor, all the way down to our mentors and tutors and coaching staff. It's extremely important to me to have our student-athletes perform at their highest ability in the classroom. It means you go to class, you do your studies, and you do what you are supposed to do.
"For my coaching staff, academic accomplishments are just as important as athletic accomplishments," Freeman continued. "All of our players want to be on the PGA Tour, but we also know that while those goals are out there for our guys, not all of them will achieve that. But all of them can achieve academic success. I think that is something that leads to greater things in life. With the type of schedule that we have and the amount of class we miss, I think that says a lot about our team."
Driscoll's honor perhaps best signifies the progress the team has made.
"Connor earned a 4.0 GPA his last quarter at UCLA," Freeman pointed out. "Early in his career, he was academically ineligible. So for him to make a turnaround like that, to understand what it takes, you have to work hard and you can't just let it go, that's a success. I love stories like that when our student-athletes take accountability for what they do. He understood what he needed to do to be successful academically. To finish with a 4.0 his last quarter at UCLA and graduate, that's exactly what we like to see."
An element that makes the academic accomplishments even more impressive is that, due to its fall-to-spring competitive schedule, the team missed 36 class days last season while playing in 12 national tournaments.
"When we do travel, we're taking tests on the road, taking class notes on the road, watching teaching and instructional videos. It's not easy doing that, but they learn very early to be successful academically. That's part of what they have to do. They get the benefit of being at UCLA, and part of that benefit is to have the foundation of our academic support staff to assist them."
Linda Lassiter was the Bruins' academic counselor from 2004-2008.
"They're a very driven group of young men," Lassiter said. "Of course, they also want to win an NCAA Championship and all their tournaments. They exhibit that same drive in the classroom. Men's golf has the most demanding travel schedule of all our teams, and that does require them to be very focused in their class work. They certainly have found the right balance regarding their sport and academics, wanting to excel at both."
Freeman and his assistant coach Jason Sigler were both all-academic golfers in college, and they understand the commitment that's necessary to excel both in the classroom and on the golf course.
As difficult as it is to travel, compete and keep up with studies, the Bruins have just as demanding of a home schedule.
A typical school day for the team consists of yoga from 6:30-7:30 am, class until the middle of the day, then a team meeting and practice all afternoon. About 12-13 hours after the start of their day, the team members will finally have the opportunity to start studying.
"They have to manage everything when they go home," said Freeman. "They have to be able to study and manage their time in the right way, which allows them to be successful. It's a skill that some inherently understand and some have to work really hard to obtain. Usually as you go through your time from freshman year to senior year, you learn that skill of time management very well. It's a demand that is going to be there - you have to or you're not going to survive. And we've got great upperclassmen who teach the younger guys how to manage their time. We're very fortunate to have that leadership."
As they prepare for the 2011-12 campaign, the Bruins will once again be a solid NCAA team championship contender. Cantlay was the low amateur at the U.S. Open this summer and the Nicklaus Award winner (Div. I Player of the Year) and Phil Mickelson Award winner (Freshman of the Year) in 2010-11. He placed second at the 2011 NCAA Championship and became just the third UCLA golfer to win the NCAA West Regional crown.
Joining Cantlay will be honorable mention All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 honoree Widegren; honorable mention All-Pac-10 senior Alex Kim; Clemens, who in 2011 won the Cal Poly Invitational and had a 72.6 stroke average; junior Figueiredo and sophomore Arboleda.
Figueiredo, who is from Azeitao, Portugal, won his first collegiate tournament last week, capturing the individual title at the Firestone Grill Cal Poly Invitational. In 2010-11, he had a best score of 66 in the final round of the Gifford Collegiate and had a 2011 stroke average of 73.6. He understands the academic and athletic challenges a student-athlete confronts at UCLA.
"My goal for the future is to be a professional golfer," Figueiredo said. "But you never know what might happen - an injury, my game might not be good enough. So I think it's crucial to my development as a person to have that great education. Being an athlete and a student, they complement each other."
For Figueiredo, studying in the U.S. has helped his personal development.
"Being a student-athlete makes you grow so much as a person because you are far from your family," he said. "You have all this stress from playing in tournaments and from the school. So being a student-athlete has definitely helped me develop as a person."
Figueiredo says the team is very proud of winning the Highest Team GPA honor.
"It was a great accomplishment for our team, especially winning the Most Improved honor," he said. "Last year we almost got the Most Improved award, so I thought this year we might get the Highest Team GPA but that it would be difficult to also earn Most Improved. Our coaches really focus on the academic side of our life; they have been pushing us."
Time management, says Figueiredo, is very important for a UCLA student-athlete to be successful in the classroom and on the athletic field.
"Whatever I'm doing, I like to succeed," he said. "I like to be very committed and give everything I have in every situation. It's the same for my schoolwork; I feel bad if I'm not giving 100%. If I have time for studying and I'm not doing it, I feel like I'm not doing the right thing. I try to be very organized and manage my time well. Being a golfer, you have so much time to practice, you wake up so early, and it's hard to manage your school responsibilities. So I just like to plan ahead, and that's worked out for me. Sometimes I have to wake up at 4 a.m. to study, but I'll do that in order to succeed academically.
Donald R. Shepherd contributes $30,000 to the GPA Awards that bear his name. By winning the Highest Team, Highest Team GPA Men and Most Improved Team GPA, the men's golf team collected $19,000 for its operating budget.
The women's and men's golf programs swept all the Donald R. Shepherd GPA Awards last spring. Carrie Forsyth's women's team won the school's 107th NCAA team championship and also earned Highest Team GPA Women (3.275) and Second-Highest Team GPA.
"Sometimes all the stars line up in a row and you're successful." Freeman said. "But I also believe that it's important for our team to be academically successful; that's what they want. If you really want it, then it's easier to achieve it. That was exciting, to finally see that our team is excited about doing well academically. They are leaders, not only on the golf course as we represent UCLA across the nation, but academically we need to be leaders, too. It starts with that and from there you can build upon anything else."
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