By Bob York
This spring’s edition of Deerfield Academy golf will be hoping to place an exclamation point on what its predecessors have systematically turned into a decade of dominance.
During eight of the past nine years, Big Green golfers have made their way to the podium of the Kingswood-Oxford School Invitational Tournament to accept their spoils. On half of those occasions–2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013–the Big Green has bested the 23-team field to rule the western New England prep school scene. It has finished second on two occasions, and wound up third two other years.
If Nick Albertson, who is retiring from the Academy this year hopes to get his charges back for a sixth consecutive appearance on the Kingswood pedestal and chalk up a fifth straight Newport Invitational Tournament title as well, the Big Green mentor will have to fill a roster that Commencement 2014 shot some holes in. “The kids are going to have to step up big time this season,” said Albertson, who saw four of his top five players depart after helping lead Deerfield to a 22-3 record last year and to a 44-4 showing over the past two campaigns. “We lost some tremendous golfers when Sam Lafferty (who placed second out of 115 golfers at Kingswood), Tyler Stahle (who placed fifth), Stuart Smith, and Josh Kim graduated.” Fortunately for Albertson, however, Brandon Wu ’15, who will be Deerfield’s top gun for a third straight season, has one more shot at showing Big Green Nation why he’s not only considered one of the premier prep players in New England, but throughout the country as well.
Adding depth will be Connor Henderson ’15, last year’s sixth seed, as well as Nick Conzelman ’17, who competed in eight matches last spring. Others include Anthony Jonikas ’16, Maddie Lyford ’16, Philip Chung ’16, and Lowell Weil ’18. “Brandon’s one of the three strongest golfers I’ve had the opportunity to coach during my 17 years here at Deerfield,” said Albertson, who included Hunter Stone ’08 and James Park ’13 among his kings of swing. “What has made him so outstanding is that he’s a complete golfer . . . all facets of his game are extremely strong.”
“He crushes the ball off the tee, yet he’s very accurate with his drives . . . he rarely misses the fairway,” added Albertson. “He has a phenomenal approach to the green and once he’s there, he inevitably finds the cup before his opponent does.”
In fact, Albertson remembers an example of Wu’s outstanding putting ability that he exhibited during a match played last April at The Ranch. “They were aerating the greens, and the holes were causing havoc in nearly everyone’s game . . . everyone but Brandon’s.” remembered Albertson. “He finished the match with a 69 while no one else was able to break 80.”
Being strong from tee to cup has always been Wu’s modus operandi. At Deerfield, it has helped him produce back-to-back top 10 finishes at the Kingswood tourney, medalist honors at Newport, plus two straight undefeated regular-season showings.
A successful summer competing in American Junior Golf Association tournaments didn’t hurt either. Four top 10 and five top five tourney finishes earned Wu a ranking of 60th–out of 8622 AJGA golfers ages 12-18–and all but assured him a spot on next year’s Stanford University golf team.”
Needless to say, seeking Wu’s services on the collegiate level was very intense and as Albertson stated, “Brandon drew a lot of interest.” One such suitor was Dartmouth College golf Coach Rich Parker, and his approach might well lend a breath of fresh air to the often-insatiable world of collegiate recruiting.
“Brandon and his mom came to visit Dartmouth and I knew from the first minute that he was a special kid,” said Parker. “He was mature, polite, and really the kind of kid that every coach wants to have on his team. “I drove to Crump last spring and his coach had told me before the round that Stanford was his top school,” added Parker. “I watched Brandon play eight holes and he should have been six under at that point. Taking into account it was early spring and how little he had played over the winter, I was stunned with his distance control and loved his demeanor. He had everything you want in a kid whose potential you know has no limits.”
“I drove home that night thinking I had just watched the best junior golfer I had ever seen,” continued Parker. “I also knew it would be unfair for him to play in the Ivy League for his growth and future. I sent two emails that night: one to Brandon and one to (Stanford coach) Conrad Ray to say he had to get this kid. “You know the rest of the story,” concluded Parker. “I know in my heart that he would have made a major impact at Dartmouth College and the Ivy League. He’s a great kid with a bright future and I wish him nothing but the best.”
When he heard about Parker’s kind words, Wu responded, “That’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten.”