by Greg MacDonald
Long before Tiger Woods was roaming the greens on the PGA Tour, the La Verne golf team was making a name for itself at the Sierra La Verne Country Club.
And one team – the 1989 squad – etched its name permanently into the Leopards’ history books.
The Leopards of ’89 were unmatched by any team before or after at La Verne. The Leopards went 17-2 overall and 12-0 in SCIAC. But even more impressive was the fact that La Verne sent all of its members to the Division III national championships.
All-District 6 selections Dean and Keith Milligan, and Kirk Avazian, along with Don Brubaker and James Hong, took the trip to Panora, Iowa, to represent La Verne.
The Leopards, who were ranked 14h in Division III, and had defeated Cal State San Bernardino and UC San Diego in their district, placed 14th at the national championships.
“We had a lot of depth,” head coach Rex Huigens said of the 1989 team. “We had six players and took the five best scores each event, and [the five best players] changed from match to match. When you have depth like that, you are in pretty good shape.”
Avazian and Keith Milligan, who was honored twice, each were selected as All-Americans after La Verne’s showing at nationals.
“It’s always nice to end on a strong note,” Huigens said.
Speaking of strong showings at the nationals, Mark Watson placed 18th at the 1997 championships held in Westerville, Ohio. The All-American was named SCIAC Player of the Year after he averaged 75.7 during the ’97 season.
“He was an outstanding player,” Huigens said of Watson. “He is arguably the best player we have ever had. He didn’t have a weakness.”
The Leopards, led by Scott Gruber, Hong and Keith Milligan, were again solid in 1990, but not as dominant as the year before.
Hong and Gruber tried to continue La Verne’s success in 1991, but the Leopards’ depth was not up to par.
But, in 1992, La Verne received a talented Citrus College transfer, Todd O’Brien.
O’Brien averaged 76.8 in conference play his first year (1992) and was recognized as a first-team all-conference and all-district player. He was one of 10 individuals the NCAA committee selected from the region to compete in the Division III championships.
“Any guy who qualifies for nationals is a really good golfer,” said Huigens, who did admit that O’Brien was a “solid player who played OK at nationals.”
Although the Leopards were 4-12 overall and 4-10 in SCIAC in 1993, O’Brien – who took second at the conference tournament – was again selected as a first-team all-conference golfer. Eugene Kim ended up in fourth place in the SCIAC tournament and was a second-team all-conference choice.
La Verne came storming back in conference this season. Heading into the SCIAC championships, the Leopards were fifth. But Mario Di Carlo, Paul Gomez and Steve Lewis led La Verne to a first-place finish in the tournament. The Leopards ended the year in second place in conference.
Gary Harvo and Tim Pettis were talented golfers for La Verne in the mid-1980s.
The duo each were first-team all-conference players in 1984 and ’85. Pettis captured a third first-team award in 1986.