The Frogs are jumping, the Rebs are running and the Devils are sizzling as men’s college golf heads into the 2003 spring season.
Fall produced some notable performances as a host of Division I teams emerged, setting themselves up for what could be a most interesting postseason run.
Texas Christian made the biggest move among teams ranked in Golfweek’s preseason top 30. Starting at No. 28, the Horned Frogs leapfrogged to No. 4 in the final fall Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. UNLV ran past a number of teams as well, going from No. 18 to No. 2.
Duke, meanwhile, made the biggest climb among 10 teams now in the top 30 that were absent from the preseason list. The Blue Devils are No. 9 heading into the spring.
For TCU coach Bill Montigel, this was supposed to be a rebuilding season. He lost three starters from a squad that tied for 11th at the NCAA Championship: honorable mention All-American Brett Guetz, Andy Doeden and Steve Shuert.
But with solid performances from senior Adam Rubinson, sophomore David Schultz (a transfer from Colorado State) and freshman Colby Beckstrom, the Horned Frogs won two tournaments – the Sooner Invitational and The Prestige – and finished third in two others.
Schultz, who tied for first at The Ridges, ended the fall No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin individual rankings, while Beckstrom was 39th and Rubinson 41st.
“Coming into the season, you don’t know what to expect because you have to rely on some freshmen,” Montigel said. “But other than the Preview (10th), I felt we played extremely well. We’re really looking forward to the spring. We have a great schedule and I think the guys know that they are going to have to play their best to compete. I feel if we play to our potential, we can have as good a spring season as we had a fall season.”
After a couple of mediocre seasons, it appears UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels are again national contenders.
Led by a trio of sophomores – reigning U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Ryan Moore, J.C. Deacon and Travis Whisman – plus senior Brien Davis and freshman Mitch Carlson, UNLV finished among the top four in each of its fall starts. The Rebs closed 2002 by winning the Turtle Bay Intercollegiate in Hawaii, where they placed four players in the top 10.
“We are a very young team, but one that is very competitive,” said UNLV coach Dwaine Knight. “It was a solid fall, but I don’t think we’ve played our best golf yet. I think the main thing is the way we played this fall gives us a solid foundation to build on in the spring season and hopefully make a run at the national championship.”
Duke coach Rod Myers said his assistant, Jason Widner, was much more optimistic about the Blue Devils’ potential than he was going into the fall.
“Jason was really pumped up while I was a little cautious,” Myers said.
What the Devils did was give Myers “as good a fall season as I’ve ever had any team play.” Duke was 5-for-5 in top-5 finishes, including a victory at The Nelson. Twice the Devils finished second.
Senior Leif Olson led the way, tying for medalist at The Ridges and winning at The Nelson. Mike Castleforte and Rob Beasley also had solid showings, but the most pleasant surprise was freshman Ryan Blaum, who posted four top-15 finishes.
“What I’m the most proud of is that in all our (fall) tournaments we were in the final grouping the last day,” Myers said. “Obviously, we’re all excited about the spring.”
Other teams to keep an eye on are those who, like Duke, were not ranked in the preseason but are now in the top 30 – teams such as Northwestern (No. 14), New Mexico (15), College of Charleston (16), Vanderbilt (18), Arkansas (19), Alabama (24), Michigan State (25), UNC-Wilmington (27) and East Tennessee State (30).
Can these squads keep up their pace, or will they slip back into mediocrity? It won’t take long to find out, as the spring season has a habit of separating the contenders and pretenders.