2006: Class of ’09: a breath of ‘fresh’ air
Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst walked away with five major awards May 26 following the National Golf Coaches Association’s annual banquet. It was fitting that a freshman dominated the evening because freshmen dominated the year.
When Paula Creamer and Julieta Granada both announced they would skip college in pursuit of professional golf’s greener pastures, gloom and doom was predicted for the once-heralded high school class of 2005. No way the cluster of unknowns who remained could compete with college golf’s most experienced veterans. Seniors Irene Cho, Maru Martinez, Paige Mackenzie and Liz Janangelo were expected to rule the roost.
That quartet did its share of winning, but it couldn’t compare with the results delivered by the latest crop of underclassmen. They won early, they won often and they made an impact. The season should be branded “The Year of the Freshmen.”
“It was obviously a good year,” Purdue coach Devon Brouse said. “It’s the best freshman class I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been coaching women’s golf. It may be the best in the next eight years.”
Said Georgia coach Todd McCorkle: “Especially with Amanda leading the way, this is the best year I can ever remember for freshmen. Probably the best freshman class in history.”
Five freshmen are ranked in Golfweek’s top 10, eight in the top 20 and 17 in the top 50 – or 34 percent. Nineteen of the 24 teams at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship had at least one freshman in their lineups, and 12 of the 24 had at least two. Georgia, Oklahoma State and Arizona each had three.
The top three teams in the country – Duke, UCLA and Arizona State – had two freshmen in their lineups at every tournament.
Blumenherst surprised even herself. She won her first tournament, the Mason Rudolph Invitational, which annually has one of the best fields of the year. In 11 events, Blumenherst recorded three victories and nine top 5s. Her ninth-place tie at the NCAA Championship was her worst finish of the season.
Arizona State’s duo of Azahara Munoz and Jennifer Osborn has reinvigorated the Sun Devils. Although Munoz didn’t win, she was the most consistent of the two freshmen. Osborn won in the fall and was second through 36 holes at the NCAA Championship. Duke’s Jennie Lee was one of the more-heralded freshmen heading into the season but had a quiet year until she jumped up and finished second at the NCAAs, beating Blumenherst by six shots.
“Last year was a great year for us,” Blumenherst said of her ’05 classmates. “I knew this year would go well for us in college.”
Georgia had the most productive trio with Taylor Leon (No. 9), Mallory Hetzel (No. 36) and Alina Lee (No. 65). Purdue had its most successful season in school history thanks in large part to Christina Boeljon (No. 31) and Maria Hernandez (No. 37). Then there was UCLA’s Jane Park and Tiffany Joh, who helped the Bruins hold a No. 2 ranking all year before the team sputtered in the postseason.
“Our freshman class is the strongest class in the past 10 years,” Park said, recalling a discussion she had with her coach Carrie Forsyth. “We have had such strong players. Overall, we practice hard, we’re friends and we feed off each other well.”
It’s not a stretch to say this could be one of the last great freshman classes. Several stud freshmen may jump up and dominate now and again, but it will be difficult to find a first-year class with as much depth. Vanderbilt’s Jacqui Concolino, Iowa’s Tyrette Metzendorf, Oregon’s Cathryn Bristow, Florida’s Mallory Blackwelder, Pepperdine’s Jayvie Agojo and Arizona’s Adriana Zwank were part of a huge list of unheralded frosh who were victorious this year. Besides, the top three players from the class of 2006 – Morgan Pressel, In-Bee Park and Angela Park – already are professionals. The top players in
each class likely will walk the same path for the foreseeable future, which will dilute the talent pool.
What college golf now must hope for is that this group’s initial success translates into more college experience, not pro aspirations. Jane Park accomplished so much before college that she toyed with the idea of going to LPGA Q-School. Blumenherst says she’ll stay at Duke for four years but another year like this one could change her mind. Munoz loves college and plans to spend more time in Tempe, but the last successful Sun Devil freshman (Louise Stahle) bailed after a year. What if one wins the U.S. Women’s Amateur this summer and opts to call it quits?
It would be great if we were sitting here after the 2009 NCAA Championship debating if this was the greatest four-year class in college history. If this year’s key characters decide to stick around, this class certainly would rank among the best.
In the meantime, this year should be treasured. We learned that ‘freshman’ is just a word, that experience is overrated and that there is no such thing as a learning curve in college golf.
“We’ve known for several years that the class of 2005 was something special,” said Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen. “I don’t know what was in the water when mom and dad were making nookie. They must have been reading Jack Nicklaus books or something. There are just so many of them and they’re all so good.
“You can’t really explain it.”