Golfweek Conference Challenge

September 19th 2010 - BURLINGTON, Iowa – North Carolina State’s Graham Baillargeon has worked with noted instructor Sean Foley since he was 12 years old. It’s a relationship that’s given Baillargeon the opportunity to play with some of Foley’s PGA Tour students, such as Justin Rose and Stephen Ames.

Has Baillargeon had the opportunity to play with Foley’s newest, most famous student, Tiger Woods?

“That’s the next goal,” Baillargeon joked.

Winning the second annual Golfweek Conference Challenge is the next goal for Baillargeon and his N.C. State teammates. A victory at Spirit Hollow Golf Course would be the Wolfpack’s second consecutive to start the season.

N.C. State won its first tournament this season, The Invitational at Kiawah, by six shots over Notre Dame. The Wolfpack shot 9-over 873 in the 6-count-4 format. They’ll be one of the favorites to win this week’s Golfweek Conference Challenge.

That’s a good start for a team that is without former NCAA champion Matt Hill, who turned pro earlier this year after his junior season at N.C. State.

N.C. State head coach Richard Sykes has softened the blow of Hill’s loss by adding several of Hill’s talented countrymen.

A member of this N.C. State team has claimed a Canadian national championship in each of the past four years. Baillargeon, a redshirt junior who is playing his first season for N.C. State after transferring from Michigan State, won the 2007 Canadian Junior. Sophomore Mitchell Sutton won the 2008 and 2009 Canadian Juniors, and freshman Albin Choi won this year’s Canadian Amateur.

Choi also made match play at the U.S. Amateur, and will represent Canada in the World Amateur Team Championship in Argentina in October.

Brandon Detweiler, the team’s lone senior, led the team at Kiawah, shooting 6-over 222 to finish 10th. Detweiler’s father, Marlin, also played golf at N.C. State.

Sutton, Mark McMillen and Baillargeon were another shot back at Kiawah. Choi shot 224 to finish 18th in his collegiate debut.

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The San Francisco Dons are at the Golfweek Conference Challenge without their director of golf, and they have four players here who’ve never hit a shot in college competition.

But the Dons like their chances. San Francisco brought in arguably the best recruiting class in program history before this season. Ji Hwan Park, No. 364 in Golfweek’s rankings last season, will play No. 1 for the Dons.

Behind him will be UCLA transfer Taylor Travis and three true freshmen: James Back, Tyler Kato and Alika Bell. Back was a first-team AJGA All-American in 2009. Taylor made match play at this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links, finished 11th in the 2009 Azalea Invitational and third at the 2007 AJGA Junior Players Championship.

San Francisco Director of Golf Gary Nelson was named the school’s interim athletic director earlier this week.

The Dons have made only two NCAA regional appearances in program history. The last came in 2009 after USF was a surprise winner of the West Coast Conference Championship. The Dons were No. 113 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season.

 
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Brad Hopfinger of host Iowa is the only champion back to defend his title at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. Hopfinger shared the 2009 individual title with Florida State’s Drew Kittleson. Florida State also won the 2009 team championship.

The Seminoles are playing in the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Intercollegiate. Iowa entered the final round of last year’s Conference Challenge with a four-shot lead but finished second. The Hawkeyes finished second at last year’s Big Ten Championship, and missed advancing to a second consecutive NCAA Championship by a shot.

The Hawkeyes return all five starters from last year’s team. They opened their season with a sixth-place finish at the Gopher Invitational. Hopfinger finished 18th. Teammates Chris Brant and Vince India tied for seventh.

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Baylor is the only team in the field that played in last year’s NCAA Championship. The Bears have four players here who competed at The Honors Course. The Bears finished 25th at the NCAA Championship. ... Middle Tennessee State is the highest-ranked team from last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The Blue Raiders finished last season ranked 37th. Freshman Brett Patterson won the Spirit of America and Tennessee Match Play this summer.