By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Chase Koepka’s stellar debut season at USF just keeps getting better.
Koepka became the first student-athlete in conference history to be named Big East Men’s Golf Player and Freshman of the Year in the same season when the league announced its postseason awards on Thursday.
“It feels like all of my hard work just seemed to pay off, especially this spring when I’m playing some of my best golf,” Koepka said. “It’s exciting for USF to get all of these awards because we’re definitely making moves in the right direction.”
Chris Malloy also was rewarded for leading the Bulls to their first-ever Big East tournament title when he received the conference’s coach of the year award for the first time. Malloy guided the Bulls to a 6-under finish at the league tournament and his team’s season scoring average of 294.81 ranks third all-time at USF.
“I have all the respect in the world for the other coaches in the league. To receive the great honor out of that group is certainly something that I don’t take lightly,” Malloy said.
Koepka placed in the top 20 in six of the Bulls’ 10 tournaments this season and posted three top-five finishes. The West Palm Beach native finished second at the Big East tournament, one stroke away from individual title winner David Tepe of Cincinnati, and his 7-under score tied for fifth all-time in the conference’s tournament history. Koepka has a 72.81 scoring average and registered a season-low round of 65 at the Seminole Intercollegiate in Tallahassee in March.
“I’m so happy that he’s starting to reap the rewards of such a big year of golf,” Malloy said. “The work ethic that he’s shown and the way he leads the team as a freshman is like nothing I’ve seen before in coaching. It’s a sign of things to come and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him for the next three years.”
Valentine became a unanimous All-Big East Team selection after finishing in a tie for 11th with James at the conference championship. Valentine posted six top-20 finishes and won his first tournament title at the Wexford Plantation Invitational a season after he was named Big East Freshman of the Year.
James has four top-20 finishes in his debut season as a Bull after transferring from New Mexico Junior College. James played in all 10 tournaments this season and posted his season-low round of 68 in the final round of the Big East tournament to help the Bulls beat St. John’s by four strokes.
“To watch Trey continue to progress has been fun and Richard has been a great addition to our team. Both of those guys earning this award is very much deserved,” Malloy said.
USF begins its NCAA tournament run May 16 at the Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club in Tallahassee.