WHAT: The Invitational at The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C.
WHEN: Sunday through Tuesday
USF'S COMPETITION: No. 12 Florida, College of Charleston, Houston, UAB, Akron, USC-Aiken, Mercer, Stephen F. Austin, Georgia Southern, Texas-Arlington, USC Upstate, Davidson, St. John's and Texas State.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The USF men's golf season begins Sunday in Kiawah Island, S.C., and head coach Chris Malloy is anxious to see how his Bulls will fare against top competition.
USF will compete against 14 programs in The Invitational at The Ocean Course with a lineup that includes three newcomers. The event allows teams to play six and count four scores, which means Malloy will go with junior Bodi Karsono, sophomore Trey Valentine, freshman Jeffrey Meltzer, junior Richard James, sophomore Branden Collins and freshman Chase Koepka.
"It's exciting this time of year because you don't know exactly what you're going to get, especially with our group," Malloy said. "We have a young group of very talented players. We're looking forward to seeing what these guys are made of and how we come out and compete."
Karsono finished in the top 25 in four tournaments last season including a 19th place showing at the Big East Championship. The Gainesville native swung his way into USF's top spot to start the season by winning two team qualifiers.
"He's really proven himself in the first couple of weeks. He's someone that obviously worked hard on his golf game over the summer," Malloy said. "He was a very good player last year, but he's shown a lot more signs of consistency."
The most consistent Bull last season was Valentine, who won Big East Freshman of the Year honors and placed 15th among 75 competitors at the NCAA Athens Regional.
"We're very excited about Trey coming back for his sophomore year and seeing if he can capitalize on a fantastic freshman season. He looks to be rounding into form," Malloy said.
Meltzer comes to USF from the Pendleton School in Bradenton and earned the Bulls No. 3 spot by winning the team's final qualifier with a 66 in the final round.
"He's someone we knew had a lot of potential and he has not disappointed," Malloy said. "Even though he's a freshman, he's very tournament savvy. I'm looking forward to that addition."
James, a Wales native, also will be making his USF debut after transferring from New Mexico Junior College.
"His transition to South Florida has been a good one. He's playing very consistent golf and I expect to see a lot of more from him," Malloy said.
Collins was the second half of USF's dynamic freshmen duo last year and played well despite battling an illness throughout the season. The Tallahassee native had four finishes in the top 25 and tied with Karsono for 19th place at the Big East Championship.
"When he's been healthy, he's been great. We're just looking to keep him healthy," Malloy said.
Koepka accomplished a ton during his career at Cardinal Newman in West Palm Beach and Malloy hopes for much of the same from the freshman.
"He is going to help us tremendously," Malloy said. "Even though he is only a freshman, he's as tournament savvy as anyone else that we have on this team. He's proven at the junior level that he can win."
Malloy described this season's squad as young, but packed with firepower and the second-year USF coach isn't letting age get in the way of high expectations for every player on the roster.
"I'm looking for these guys to step up and be leaders. I don't care if it's the freshmen. I don't care which class it comes from," he said.
Live scoring of Sunday's first round can be found online at Golfstat.com. Check back to GoUSFBulls.com after each round for complete team scores and a daily recap.