Falcons Prepare for Service Academy Classic
Oct. 7, 2002
The Air Force golf team just hosted its annual 24-team tournament, and is now preparing to head to Dallas, Texas, for the annual Service Academy Classic. The Falcons have had tremendous success at the tournament in the past, winning the event for seven consecutive seasons.
Although fans still expect a strong performance from the Falcons, they can also expect to see a few changes at this year's Classic. For starters, the Falcons will be without four-time defending champion Ben Leestma, who graduated last May. Leestma won the individual title for an unprecedented four straight seasons, helping the Falcons maintain their win streak.
But Leestma isn't the only one who will be absent from the tournament. Gene Miranda, who coached the Falcons for the past 25 seasons, retired at the end of the summer. Taking the helm of the team is former assistant coach George Koury.
Koury is no stranger to Air Force golf. He spent three seasons as an assistant, working with both the varsity and the junior varsity programs. He was also a member of the Falcon golf team from 1990-1993, serving as team captain and earning MVP honors his final year.
Although he is taking over for a legendary coach in Miranda, the transition from assistant to head coach has been seamless for Koury.
"Being around Miranda for so long and as organized as he was, made it a pretty smooth transition," Koury said. "He had everything set up for me to slide right in and take over."
With the loss of Leestma, who carried the team throughout his career, Koury has started rebuilding the program with young players. At the Denver Invitational (Sept. 30-Oct. 1), Koury placed three freshmen in the starting lineup: J.T. Hamamoto (Hilo, Hawaii), Adam Myers (Franklin, Ohio) and Scott Redmond (Fort Benning, Ga.).
"After six weeks of basic training without touching a club, those three freshmen are starting to come around," Koury said. "They need to gain more tournament experience, but it looks like they will be a mainstay for us for years to come."
Joining the three freshmen is sophomore Adam Wasinger (Breckenridge, Colo.), who is off to a solid start this year. Wasinger played in every varsity tournament last year as a freshman, where he gained valuable experience and had two top 10 finishes. Vying for the fifth spot are team captain Brandon Daum (Aurora, Colo.) and seniors Landon Chang (Hilo, Hawaii) and Chris Dieter (Kingwood, Texas), all seniors.
"Brandon Daum is a leader," Koury said. "He has a real positive attitude and is one of the hardest workers on the team. Chang and Dieter both have varsity experience and are going to contribute throughout the year."
The team has three tournaments under its belt, but the real test comes Oct. 14-15, when the Falcons face Army, Navy and the Merchant Marines in the Service Academy Classic. The fact that Air Force has won the tournament for the past seven years hasn't escaped the new coach.
"I am constantly being reminded of our winning streak at the Classic," Koury said. "I feel a little pressure to win, but I think we are up to the challenge."
Koury knows that it will be tougher to win this year without Leestma. He has intentionally avoided looking at scores from Army and Navy, but he knows they are always pretty equal to Air Force. And although the Falcons have not finished higher than 11th place in their first three tournaments, Koury remains optimistic.
"Depth-wise we are a strong team and through our first three tournaments our scores are compatible with where they were last year at the same time," Koury said. "Everyone has gotten a little better. We just need someone to have a breakout tournament and I hope it happens at the Service Academy Classic."
One element of the tournament that Koury hopes to use to the team's benefit is the format. Seven players compete in the event, with the five best scores counting towards the team score. Being allowed to drop two scores takes some of the pressure off the less-experienced players and rewards depth on the roster, which will help the Falcons.
Koury is excited about the growth of the team in the few short months under his leadership. He is excited about the direction the program is heading and although the team is young, Koury expects to win the Classic and bring home the trophy for the eight time in the past eight years.