As the UConn men’s golf team moves back to the Big East Conference this spring, the Huskies are hoping their combination of talent, facilities and recruiting will propel them to national success.
Storrs, Conn., isn’t an ideal location to build a national college golf powerhouse, but UConn’s state-of-the-art indoor facility is a golfer’s paradise.
The facility is located inside Gampel Pavilion—surrounding golfers with the allure and history of UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball programs—and features multiple simulators with Trackman and GCQuad launch monitors to track both ball flight and players’ delivery numbers.
The facility isn’t just for ball-striking, as there is a putting and chipping green adjacent to the simulators. The green has SAM Putt lab, which breaks down every aspect of the putting stroke and provides valuable quantitative data. You can even add or reduce the slope of the green, which allows players to hit putts that break both ways and accurately simulates outdoor conditions.
With all of this technology at their fingertips, the team is prepared to play against the best, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
The indoor facility is amongst the best in college golf and is part of the reason players now come from all around the world to play for the Huskies. Coach Dave Pezzino believes UConn offers the total package for student athletes, which allows him to recruit some of the best junior golfers in the country.
“It’s a great place to go if you want to develop as a player,” Pezzino said. “Our guys come in and they get better. We have a good system in place, and it’s just a really cool experience.”
The player-development process has certainly worked for UConn junior Jared Nelson. Nelson was named the 2019 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rookie of the year following his freshman year at Siena College in upstate New York before transferring to UConn in 2020. Nelson wasn’t highly recruited as a junior golfer from Rutland, Vt., but rode his strong freshman season at Siena to a spot on UConn’s roster. Nelson transferred looking for a more national schedule against better competition than he had at Siena; UConn offered both.
Nelson knows that Pezzino and his program will help him reach the next level, as he plans to pursue professional golf after graduation.
“(Pezzino) understands what you need to work on and what you need to improve to get better. So having that direction that he provides is huge,” Nelson said.
UConn’s roster was composed only of players from Connecticut as recently as 2014, but Pezzino has expanded his recruiting base in recent years. The team’s current roster features players from across New England, and Pezzino convinced freshman Jimmy Paradise and senior Rodrigo Sanchez to leave the warm climates of Tampa, Fla., and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, respectively to play in Storrs.
Pezzino speaks extensively about offering his players the full student-athlete experience, and that means he must recruit players who are more than just elite golfers.
“In New England, you have to find wicked-tough people,” Pezzino said. “We attract elite students who are elite golfers as well.”
The program’s recruiting success continues into 2021, with three of the top junior golfers from Massachusetts committed to join the Huskies this fall.
Trevor Lopez is coming off a successful career at Winchester High School, where he was a two-time conference MVP and the 2019 Massachusetts Division 2 individual champion. Even with the previous success, Lopez is ready to take his game to the next level. Lopez is close friends with fellow Massachusetts natives and 2021 commits Eric Boulger and Vikram Konanki and he’s hoping that the three of them can help UConn reach new heights.
“(Coach Pezzino) did a great job showing that we can really just make something special right. In our backyard,” Lopez said. “So that was something that we all thought if we could do this together, that’d be pretty cool.”
For Lopez, remaining close to home was an important factor in his decision to sign with the Huskies. Pezzino said that his recruiting process begins in-state before branching out, and he and his players want to build one of the best college golf programs in the region.
“(Coach Pezzino) wants to keep it a Northeast team with kids who want to be in the Northeast,” Lopez said. “We want to represent a team that’s close to home, where our parents can come and watch and all that. Our coach has done a great job with trying to keep the talent up north, and for us, it’s an easy choice.”
Both current and future Huskies mention the family atmosphere of the team, but that takes on a more literal meaning for Boulger. Boulger’s older brother Jack is a senior on the golf team, and although the brothers’ UConn careers won’t overlap, Eric’s familiarity with the program drove him to commit.
“I had so much insight on the program and what was going on over there. I only heard good things about it,” Boulger said. “So I knew (UConn) was where I was going to go the whole time.”