By Sean Martin
May 2, 2006
Members of the Loyola Marymount golf team thought their coach was crazy when he told the team at its preseason photo shoot he was passing up a golf trip to Ireland because it conflicted with the NCAA West Regional.
Most assumed the Lions' season would be done by then, allowing head coach Alex Galvan to go on his "trip of a lifetime." After all, LMU had never qualified for the postseason, never ended a season ranked higher than 163rd in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and finished last at the 2005 West Coast Conference Championship. Pepperdine had earned the title, and the automatic regional bid, the past seven years.
Galvan may have seemed crazy in September. Buf after this year's West Coast Conference Championship, he appeared prophetic. The Lions, ranked No. 131 entering the tournament, shot 8 over par April 18 to win the school's first conference title by five shots, beating two top-60 programs.
Brian Locke, an AJGA third-team all-American last year, birdied 10 of his first 14 holes on the way to a final-round 64. His 6-under 210 total gave the baseball-gripping freshman the individual title, as well as conference player of the year and freshman of the year honors.
He was the third Lion in the past four seasons to be named the WCC's best first-year player (D'Amore in 2004-05 and Chaz Inouye in 2002-03). It's no coincidence the program got Galvan, its first full-time coach, that same year.
One of the first lessons he learned was to recruit close to home. D'Amore's Manhattan Beach home is 10 minutes from campus "hitting every red light on Sepulveda Boulevard." Locke, is located about three minutes from school.
A baseball player most his life, Locke first took up the game in eighth grade, playing primarily at a 15-hole, par-53 golf course adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport. (Three holes were eliminated when the airport expanded.) He still plays with the same unconventional 10-finger grip he started with. Locke said he tried an overlapping grip for about six months, but eventually switched back.
The final round of the West Coast Conference Championship was the first time he was 10 under par in a tournament round, but not the first time he's gone low. Locke shot 64-68 on the first day of the Santa Clara Invitational in October, making 17 birdies in the first 36 holes on the way to the individual title. He had another 10-under-in-14-holes stretch at a recent mini-tour event, this time after starting 4 over par on his first four holes.
D'Amore has gone even lower. He set the school 54-hole record of 203 last year, two better than Locke's mark at Santa Clara. D'Amore shot 29 on his opening nine holes at The Farms Collegiate Invitational earlier this year. He's fired 63 twice in casual rounds, but told Galvan, "I don't know how I did it," after scrambling for a back-nine 33 to shoot 73 in the last round of the WCC Championship.
"The key for me, and I think it works for (Brian) as well, is to stay as aggressive as possible when you get under par," said D'Amore, who qualified for the 2004 U.S. Amateur. "It's the easiest way to hold onto how you are playing."
Galvan, a club pro before taking over at his alma mater, signed both players before seeing them in person. A player Galvan didn't even recruit, however, probably had the biggest impact at the WCC Championship.
Josh Escobedo had to try out to earn a walk-on spot with the Lions in the fall of 2004. He entered this year's conference championship with a 76.1 scoring average and hadn't broken par all year. He finished tied for fourth, including a second-round 69.
Escobedo also played well in LMU's other win this season, finishing third at the Lions' Carson Daly Invitational, the team's first win in six years and the first of Galvan's coaching career.
Galvan was LMU's team captain in 1982, so he's seen the team grow from a "shoe-string budget" into one that opened a 5,900-square foot, on-campus short-game facility in March, won its first conference title in April and will make its first postseason appearance in May.
"(The players) know I'm a golfaholic," Galvan said. "That trip would've meant a lot to me, but I'd obviously rather be doing this."