For the past three season BYU has consistently found itself ranked among the nation's best golf teams. In 1999 the Cougars finished seventh at the NCAA Championships and in 2000 BYU placed 2nd at the NCAA West Regionals. Head coach Bruce Brockbank begins his 10th season with only one starter returning from those extremely talented teams.
Senior Manuel Merizalde has been a key part of BYU's success the past three seasons and will be counted on to help carry a very young inexperienced team.
Merizalde, fresh off a an excellent semifinal finish at the U.S. Amateur, is currently ranked among the nation's best. Last season Merizalde led BYU to a second place finish at the prestigious Ping Preview in Durham, North Carolina where his first round 71 helped him to a second place individual finish.
"Manuel's confidence is high right now and we are going to need his maturity and talent to help carry much of the weight of this team this season," Brockbank said.
Merizalde was the WAC Champion his freshman season and helped his Cougars to a seventh place finish at the NCAA Championships. His sophomore season he earned Honorable Mention All-American honors and led BYU to a 2nd place finish at the NCAA West Regionals.
Fellow senior Kyle Wight is another player Brockbank will count on to consistently shoot a good score for the Cougars this season. Besides Merizalde, Wight is the most experienced returning player on the team having competed in six of BYU's 13 tournaments last season.
"Kyle (Wight) is really going to have to step it up for us this year," Brockbank said. "He is a very determined player and we will rely on him to help our team this season."
Last season Wight ended the season strong finishing 13th at the Mountain West Conference Championships helping the Cougars earn their second conference title in three years.
Jared Overton, Berg Crawford and Chris Graham return with limited experience from last season. Overton played in four tournaments last season shooting a career low 68 in the first round of the Nike Northwest Classic.
"Overton's made a lot of improvement in his swing this past year," Brockbank said. "We need him to take it from the range to the course and start shooting some of the scores he shot early last year."
Crawford will also be expected to elevate his game this season. After seeing limited action his first three seasons, Crawford has worked hard to be ready for an improved senior season.
Sophomore Chris Graham also continues to improve and could play in a number of tournaments for BYU this season. Nick Becker, who redshirted last season, is another Cougar hungry to step up and compete on this young squad.
Brockbank is very excited about the four newcomers to this BYU team. Three talented freshman, Greg Matchaler, Ron Harvey Jr. Tyler Pearson, and one junior college transfer, Devin Heid, all hope to come in and make an impact during their first season at BYU.
"This group obviously doesn't have a lot of experience at the Division I level, but the are great athletes that work very hard," Brockbank said. "These guys should all have a chance to compete for us this year, and hopefully make an impact on our team."
In the tradition of Mike Weir and Richard Zokol, BYU now has three Canadians on its team. Sophomore Chris Graham was joined by two of the top junior golf players in Canada Matchaler and Harvey.
Brockbank is anxiously awaiting the return of LDS missionary Clay Bingham and the arrival of Colombian Oscar Alvarez in January. Bingham who was an AJGA Rolex All-American and three-time Utah State High School Champion is expected to come in and help the Cougars in the spring season along with Alvarez. Alvarez, who finished seventh at the Junior World Cup and won several other junior golf tournaments could give a very big boost to BYU.
If the Cougars can get some experience in a hurry, improve every week and capitalize on the talent of Merizalde, they will find themsleves in the hunt for another conference title and a chance at qualifying for another NCAA Championships.