At the top of the Napa Valley College men’s golf ladder is Jarrett Hill, a 2016 Vacaville High graduate who finished last season as one of the three best players in the Big 8 Conference.
At the bottom is former NVC baseball standout Austin Barlow, the 2015 Bay Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year who, seven years removed from high school, is playing his first season of golf.
Barlow played for Storm golf coach Bob Freschi during the second to last of his 15 seasons as head coach of NVC baseball. Freschi stepped down to take over the Storm’s women’s and men’s golf teams, and now Barlow is part of Freschi’s second men’s squad.
The Storm – who will host a Big 8 Conference tournament at 12 p.m. Wednesday at Chardonnay Golf Club – are rounded out by 2017 high school graduates Kyle Dozier of Pittsburg, Steve Plate of Heritage-Brentwood, and Robby Hess of Vacaville. Levi Olsen, a 2016 Napa High product who played for the Storm last year, is redshirting this season. Indiana native David Welsh is recovering from a back injury.
“We’re better than last year and that’s what I wanted to see,” Freschi said. “Jarrett has the ability to be the MVP of our conference. He’s No. 1 in the conference in scoring average after three tournaments, but that’s what we expected. We have a good group of men. Hopefully we’ll keep improving and follow Jarrett’s lead.”
Hill earned All-Big 8 Conference honors and tied for the second-best scoring average in the conference at 76.8 last year. He then finished sixth at the Northern California Regional Championships and was one of four individuals to advance to the state tournament, finishing 57th at Cypress Ridge Golf Course in Arroyo Grande.
He was an All-Monticello Empire League player all four years at Vacaville, including Player of the Year as a junior and senior, and played on four straight MEL-championship teams and reached the NorCal tournament as a senior.
This past August, Hill capped a busy summer of golf by placing second in the championship division of the Fairfield City Amateur Championships.
In the Stanford Invitational on Feb. 26, he shot an even-par 72 to finish third overall. Two days later, he was the medalist in a Big 8 Conference tournament at Rancho Murieta in Sacramento with a 73, beating the next finisher by six strokes.
“Jarrett played in tournaments over the summer and the fall, and he came out really striking the ball well,” Freschi said. “It was just his putting (he was struggling with) in the first few practice rounds and matches. But now he’s switched putters and he’s really rolling the ball well. When his putts drop, he’s tough to beat. To beat the field by six strokes was quite impressive. We’ve been playing in tough cold, windy conditions in the last three weeks and can add a good 6-10 strokes.”
Barlow, 2011 Vintage High School graduate, played baseball for Freschi in 2012, took two years off, and then earned BVC Pitcher of the Year honors in 2015.
He now works at Vintner’s Golf Club in Yountville.
“I took my children up there because it’s a good beginner’s course, and Austin was hitting on the range,” Freschi recalled. “He said he had been playing a lot of golf and I said ‘Yeah, you have a nice swing.’ We had a couple of injuries so I said ‘Austin, why don’t you try out for our team in January and see where you’re at?’”
Barlow took his former baseball coach up on the offer and he has shot as low as 92, at the Napa Valley Invitational at the Storm’s home course at Chardonnay Golf Club on Feb. 14.
“He strikes the ball well. He just has to score. But he’s learning the game,” Freschi said. “Inside 40 yards, he’s having a tough time chipping and pitching, getting up and down. He and I relate a lot to baseball and location and understanding the visuals and the points, so he’s getting there. It’s been a joy. He has a great attitude. It’ll be interesting to see his progress.”
Dozier has shot as low as 78.
“He was the best player in the East Bay and was thinking about Sac State when I recruited him,” Freschi said. “He strikes the ball well. He had a bad round (85) last Wednesday. There are a few holes at Rancho Murieta that are tight and he’s a big hitter and he just drew a few balls out of bounds. He didn’t play smart golf that day and his score reflected it. But he’s pretty good.”
Like Hill, Hess has benefited from a midseason equipment change.
“Robby is solid,” Freschi said. “He’s a smaller, shorter guy, but he got a new driver last week and he’s putting them out there. It’s a game of adjustments. He’s really happy with his driver, so he’s keeping the ball in play. He needs to get a little bit better right around the greens, so we’re working on his chipping.”
Plate helped Heritage win to back-to-back Bay Valley Athletic League titles before coming to NVC.
Freschi worked at California Golf Club, a private country club in South San Francisco, in the 1990s.
“I worked in the pro shop and wanted to become an assistant pro, but I decided to go the baseball route instead,” said Freschi, who continues to coach his sons in Napa Little League baseball. “Golf is a grind. To make it to head pro or club pro is really difficult, and I just loved coaching baseball.”
He said the transition back into the golf world has been smooth.
“Coaching is coaching, and the sports are similar,” he said. “A lot of these guys have their own swing coaches, so I just reiterate what they do and point out their strengths and weaknesses. I’m like the captain of the Ryder Cup team. I drive around on match days in a cart and check up on them and see how they’re doing and I can see right away from their body language.
“We talk a lot about the mental part of the game. Both sports are for the strong mentally, because whether it’s amateur baseball or amateur golf, you’re gonna fail. It’s how you rebound from it. Either you compound errors and have a blowup hole or you get back on track and minimize them.”