Nov. 9, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Tennessee head coach Jim Kelson could barely contain his delight Wednesday in announcing the three members of UT's 2011 men's golf signing class.
The athletics department received letters of intent from Grant Daugherty of nearby Alcoa, Chad Merzbacher of Dublin, Ohio, and Michael Nagy of Manistique, Mich. According to Kelson, this trio could make an immediate impact on an already rising program.
"With all due respect to our former signing classes, this is undoubtedly the finest class I have been associated with for over 20 years," Kelson said. "All three of these young men are extremely long, accurate and talented in all phases of the game. Most importantly, collectively, they are the most determined and disciplined group of three signees in my career."
The Vols are losing three seniors off this year's squad, so it was crucial for Kelson and his staff to fill immediate needs. Kelson believes he has succeeded with these three signees.
"These players possess the talent, work ethic and desire for our program to become a championship-caliber team," he said. "Without question, these players have championship-level expectations.
"The ability to receive instruction and retain information is a vital part of our program. We feel these young men will be exceptional in that regard."
The Alcoa High product finished 22nd at the 2011 Western Open in Chicago, shooting 76-76-73-72 over the four-day major tournament. He finished the 2011 American Junior Golf Association circuit with three top-20 finishes in four appearances, including a 14th-place result at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Daugherty also finished eighth at the Tennessee Golf Association's "The Wally" 2011 tournament.
Merzbacher claimed medalist runner-up honors at the 2011 Ohio State High School Division I Golf Championship, leading to first team All-State honors. His school, Jerome High, swept both the boys and girls titles for the second time in seven years and remains the only Ohio school to accomplish this feat.
Other top finishes for Merzbacher included second at the 2009 AJGA Nationwide Insurance Junior presented by the Memorial Tournament, eighth at the 2010 AJGA Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands, and a tie for fourth at the 2011 AJGA Junior at Savannah Quarters. He also finished 10th this year at the Bubba Conlee National Junior, and tied for 14th at the AJGA TaylorMade/Adidas Golf Junior at Innisbrook, hosted by Sean O'Hair.
Nagy, who was coached in his youth by current Vols Director of Instruction Casey VanDamme, is believed to be the first Division I scholarship athlete from Manistique High since 1961. He already holds the distinction of youngest (15) club champion at his hometown Indian Lake Golf & Country Club, starting a run of four consecutive men's titles by an average victory margin of 16 strokes. During this summer's championship, Nagy shattered course record by shooting a 12-under-par 60.
He was the 2009 and 2011 Upper Peninsula Division I medalist, and runner-up in 2010. Nagy's 2011 AJGA results showed four top-10s in four events, including runner-up at the Randy Wise Junior Open and top-five finishes at the Midwest Junior Players Championship and Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands. He also twice qualified for the Trusted Choice Big "I" Junior Classic national tourney.
At the NCAA finals, UT has placed in the top 25 the last three seasons and six times overall, including a high of 12th in 2009. The current streak of three straight trips to the NCAA finals marks Tennessee's best run since the Vols advanced to three consecutive from 1995-97.
But Kelson isn't settling for simply playing alongside the best programs in golf.
"The signing of Chad Merzbacher, Grant Daugherty and Michael Nagy is significant for our golf program here at the University of Tennessee," he said.
Kelson also appreciates the academic success and personal qualities of his three newest team members.
"In addition to their physical skills, these three young men are extremely bright," he said. "All three of these players are likely to receive academic scholarships in addition to their athletic scholarships.
"And one of the primary considerations we look for in recruits is their upbringing and parents. Once again, this group is special in that regard. Our staff is very excited to welcome the Merzbacher, Nagy and Daugherty families into our program."
The Vols have completed their fall schedule. UT's next competition is Feb. 13-14 at the San Diego Intercollegiate Classic in Chula Vista, Calif.