Texas freshman Cody Gribble is a man of integrity, proved first by his long-awaited arrival at the University of Texas, then by his presence in Austin while his teammates headed to Japan for the first event of the year.
Once Gribble’s college career did get under way, he proved worth the wait. Gribble is No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and the country’s best freshman thus far this year.
He made a verbal commitment to Texas as a high school freshman, and stayed true to that promise despite plenty of time to reconsider and plenty of schools that would’ve been happy to have him.
During qualifying for the Longhorns’ first event this year, Gribble called a two-stroke penalty on himself for asking advice from a teammate. The added strokes dropped him into a playoff for the final lineup spot for the Topy Cup in Japan, which he lost.
“I was playing alright, but it kind of lit a fire under me,” Gribble said. “After not qualifying, it kind of motivated me to make sure I did.”
Just cracking the lineup is difficult for anyone on Texas’ team. Besides Gribble, two-time U.S. Amateur semifinalist Charlie Holland; Dylan Frittelli, Golfweek’s 49th-ranked player; and returning All-American Lance Lopez are among the players that have failed to qualify for events.
Head coach John Fields changed to a completely “performance-based” qualifying process this year to take advantage of his team’s depth. He got rid of his coach’s selections for each event, letting results from qualifiers and tournaments set the lineup instead.
Eleven of the the Longhorns’ 13 players have started this year.
“They’ve all earned those opportunities (to play),” Fields said. “Nothing’s been given to anybody. I felt like for the first time in a long time that we had some depth, but depth has no relevance unless everyone has an equal opportunity.”
The competition just to make the starting five has helped the Longhorns return to national prominence after several years in which they were overshadowed by many teams in their own state.
Texas is No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings with a 33-6 head-to-head record, including top-3 finishes in their past three tournaments. No. 5 TCU is the only instate team ranked ahead of Texas.
Gribble has finished in the top 3 in his first three college starts. Another decision made several years ago has helped ease his transition into college golf.
“He made the choice 2 1/2 years before he came to college that he was no longer going to play junior golf on a full-time basis, that he was going to play amateur golf,” Fields said. “Now it’s not new for him to step on the tee and face the top players. He’s been doing it for years.”
Earlier this year, Gribble collected top-10s at this year’s Jones Cup, Sunnehanna Amateur, Azalea Invitational and lost a playoff at the Porter Cup.
The Longhorns’ next start will come Monday and Tuesday at the Baylor Invitational at Dallas’ Royal Oaks Country Club. Gribble is familiar with the layout, as it’s the home course of his instructor, Randy Smith.
“I’ve never played a tournament there, but I know it like the back of my hand,” Gribble said. “I’m excited to get back there.”
Just like the Longhorns are happy to have Gribble in their lineup.
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Player to watch: Texas A&M junior John Hurley
Hurley, one of the heroes of Texas A&M’s NCAA title team, has always been known for his length. He has improved his wedge game in recent months, which has allowed him to take advantage of his length, Texas A&M head coach J.T. Higgins said.
Hurley is No. 59 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings – a 106-spot improvement from last year – thanks to two top-10s in three starts this year.
He won the Lone Star Invitational on Monday for his second top-10 of the year. He had a chance to win the season-opening William H. Tucker Invitational before a final-round 76 dropped him into a tie for ninth.
Hurley carries his driver about 330 yards, Higgins said, and hits the ball “reasonably straight” for such length. At the Lone Star, Hurley had 195 yards into a downwind 605-yard par 5. The short shots were his weakness.
“His length is legendary,” Higgins said. “He’s always been a terrific putter, but his chipping has always been pretty suspect. Sometimes he could be around a par 5 in two and walk out of there with par or bogey. He’s really worked hard on (his wedge game). When he got here, he was not a very good wedge player. I think he’s become an above-average wedge player.”
Hurley almost wasn’t in the lineup for the Lone Star. He had to birdie the first hole of a playoff with teammate Jordan Russell to qualify for the event. Hurley had to earn his spot back in the lineup after finishing T-63 at the Ping/Golfweek Invitational. That was a rare blemish on an impressive recent resume.
Hurley went undefeated in match play at last year’s NCAA Championship and finished T-31 in stroke play. This summer, he won the Nebraska Match Play and finished T-6 at the Players Amateur and T-10 at the Scratch Players Championship. Hurley is No. 63 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Amateur Rankings.
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Mid-major spotlight: Fresno State, best known as the alma mater of two-time PGA Tour winner Nick Watney, is off to a good start to the college season and is on pace to be postseason-bound after sending two individuals – but not the team – to the regionals last year.
Led by U.S. Amateur semifinalist Bhavik Patel, the Bulldogs are No. 42 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, a 29-spot improvement from last year and 51 spots higher than two seasons ago.
The Bulldogs have started the season with top-5 finishes at the Nevada Wolfpack and Alister Mackenzie. Patel, No. 42 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, finished second at the Wolf Pack and eighth at the Mackenzie.
The Bulldogs also have a solid player in Grant Doverspike, who has finished first and second, respectively, in the past two WAC Championships and was last year’s WAC Player of the Year. He was the first Bulldog since Watney to win that award.
Patel and Doverspike played regionals last year, with Doverspike finishing 12th at the West Regional.
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A look ahead
What: Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
When: Oct. 25-27
Where: Isleworth Country Club, Windermere, Fla.
Why it’s important: The top six teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings – Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Illinois, Washington, TCU and Stanford – are in the field. Can Oklahoma State author another dominating performance after its 22-shot victory at the Ping/Golfweek Invitational, or will another team step up to dethrone Georgia, which has won four of the five playings? Washington and TCU are making their ICI debuts.
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What: David Toms Intercollegiate
When: Oct. 26-27
Where: Country Club of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, La.
Why it’s important: The host Tigers have plenty of potential – they were No. 12 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, and are led by first-team preseason All-American John Peterson – but are sitting right at the all-important .500 mark (21-21-0) after three events. No place like home for the 32nd-ranked Tigers to pick up some victories.