Ladies and gentleman, welcome to another episode of Know Your Current College Golfers (Unheralded Players in the Top 20 Edition).
This week on the program, we introduce you to three players with three interesting stories, all capable of making some noise in the next couple of months, whether or not you can pick them out of a lineup.
Not that they really care about that last part, mind you.
• • •
Meet Jonathan Randolph, Ole Miss junior
What you’re about to learn: He’s a fairways-and-greens kind of guy who watched every single televised shot of the 2008 U.S. Open.
The jump: Randolph, 21, finished his freshman year 188th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and his sophomore year ranked 93rd.
He currently is sitting in the No. 7 position, ahead of such names as Nick Taylor, Peter Uihlein and Walker Cup player Brendan Gielow. Ole Miss is ranked 44th as a team.
How he did it: “Precision,” Ole Miss coach Ernest Ross said. Randolph, of Brandon, Miss., keeps the ball in play and has a great short game, which has led to just one double bogey and one triple in nine tournaments this season.
“He rarely beats himself,” Ross said.
Such consistency has led to three individual victories this year, including the Gator invitational and Schenkel E-Z-GO-Invitational this spring. He has six top-5 finishes and leads the SEC with a 70.52 stroke average.
“I’ve just worked hard,” Randolph said. “I used to have 15 birdies in a tournament and finish 1 under, and now I’m having 8 birdies in a tournament and finishing 5 under.”
You’ll chuckle when you hear this . . . When Ross first saw Randolph, he thought he was “a little pudgy and didn’t hit it really far . . . and I didn’t think I would recruit him.”
But things changed after Randolph started working with swing coach V.J. Trolio his junior year of high school. He won the 2006 Bubba Conlee Junior, which got him into a few AJGA invitationals including the Rolex Tournament of Champions, where he found himself paired with Rickie Fowler, the week after Fowler had decommitted from UCLA.
“So many coaches were following us,” said Randolph, “and coming from Mississippi, I hadn’t been heavily recruited.
“But that was a really big summer for me, and Coach Ross, he was there first.”
As for that interstate, inter-family rivalry . . . Randolph grew up a Mississippi State fan. His father, Richard, and his aunt are both MSU alumni.
“They kind of did a double-take when I signed and put on an Ole Miss hat on,” Randolph said.
So why haven’t you heard of him? A couple of reasons, probably.
1.) You’re not paying enough attention to the SEC. Randolph had eight rounds in the 60s as a freshman and was named to the All-SEC freshman team.
2.) He has yet to play a full summer of amateur golf because of a recurring injury.
A week after the NCAA regionals his freshman year, Randolph felt pain in his chest after hitting a shot out of the fescue at the Mississippi State Amateur. At the time, he had a six-shot lead with 11 holes to play.
Said Randolph: “My dad’s a doctor, and he was telling me, ‘It’s OK, you just have heartburn.”
It turned out to be torn cartilage in his chest, and Randolph ended up finishing second that day, and having to withdraw from a full schedule of amateur tournaments.
“For five months I was out and couldn’t pick up a club,” Randolph said. “I couldn’t even play with my dog much. . . . I watched every single shot at Torrey Pines when Tiger won though, I can tell you that.”
He called it a “blessing in disguise,” having to work as hard as he did to get his game back. Then he tweaked the same muscle again last summer and missed more events.
This year, Randolph wants to make up for the lost time.
“I’m really looking forward to this summer,” he said.
• • •
Meet Ben Kohles, Virginia sophomore
What you’re about to learn: The best player at Virginia has been playing golf seriously for only about five years.
The jump: Kohles, 20, finished last year, his freshman season, at No. 223 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
He is now at No. 13, while helping his team to No. 23 in the country.
How he did it: “Just hard work,” Virginia coach Bowen Sargant said.
Kohles opened his freshman year with a pretty good fall, but said he lost his way with his putter in the spring. Despite his struggles, he still finished 11th at NCAA regionals, helping the Cavaliers to a berth in the NCAA Championship.
Over the summer, Kohles zoned in on his putting and short game with instructor Todd Anderson of Sea Island, Ga., and came back with renewed confidence, tying for first at the Maryland Intercollegiate, Virginia’s first event of the fall, with rounds of 71-66-69.
“To see a kid improve that much that fast is a little bit of a shock,” Sargant said. “He’s just an unbelievably good putter now, and (he) has become a good chipper.”
Kohles opened the spring with another victory at the Cleveland Classic Palmetto Intercollegiate, where he shot a 7-under 63 in Round 2 to tie the school’s 18-hole record. He became the first Cavalier to win two events in a season since current PGA Tour player Steve Marino in 2001-02.
“Over the summer things just started to click,” Kohles said. “It’s just been awesome to see how much I’ve progressed in such a short amount of time.”
Kohles leads his team in scoring average by better than two strokes (70.57). He leads the ACC by almost a full stroke.
You’ll chuckle when you hear this . . . He didn’t really start playing competitive golf until he was about 15, picking up the game only after his family moved from the Dallas area to Cary, N.C.
Kohles didn’t even try out for his high school team (Green Hope in Cary, N.C.) his freshman year, though he would go on to help the school win two state championships.
He played in only “five or six” AJGA events before college and had to get through a local qualifier to get into the Footjoy Boys Invitational, where a top-20 finish earned him some attention from coaches.
“I was looking at ECU, Charlotte, N.C. State. Virginia was pretty high up on the list,” Kohles said. “My parents really liked it academically . . . and I wanted to go to an ACC team.”
So why haven’t you heard of him? Despite his scores, he remains an under-the-radar kind of guy, just like in his junior career.
“In today’s world of prima donnas, he’s not like that at all,” said Sargant, adding that Kohles has become the team’s leader by example. “He’s pretty unspoken, not a real vocal person, but he’s starting to see himself as the leader of this team.”
What else could a coach hope for, especially out of a sophomore? Well . . .
“Two strengths he has is his putting and his desire,” Sargant said. “He wants to win every single time. A lot of kids say they want to win, but he has that intangible.
“When he steps on the tee he’s on a mission.”
• • •
Meet Philipp Westermann, Southeastern Louisiana freshman
What you’re about to learn: One of the newest players in college golf has quickly become one of the best.
The jump: Westermann, of Pinneberg, Germany, joined the team only this spring because he was finishing his military duties in Germany and getting his NCAA Clearinghouse paperwork in order last fall.
He is No. 19 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and has helped his team to a No. 40 ranking.
“If he would have been in the top 100 at this point, I would have been pleased,” coach Tim Baldwin says.
How he did it: Real simple. “He just got a key win early and hasn’t finished out of the top 5 yet,” Baldwin said.
Before stepping onto campus, Westermann, 21, spent 10 days in Florida training with the German national team.
He then shot a final-round 69 to win the UTSA/Oak Hills Invitational, his first college tournament, by one shot over ninth-ranked Dustin Garza of Wichita State. A week later, he shot three consecutive 72s and tied for fifth at the Mardi Gras Invitational.
“I expected to play well, sure, but I also came here with no expectations really,” says Westermann, 21. “But then I won my first tournament and thought, ‘Well, I can compete here – my game is good enough to win at this level.’ So, of course, expectations from there went higher.”
Westermann, who has posted several top international amateur finishes the past few years, hasn’t finished out of the top 5 yet, helping the Lions to victories in their past two events, including this week’s UALR/First Tee Classic in Little Rock, Ark. And though he has played less rounds than his teammates, his 71.73 stroke average is the team’s best.
His parents will be glad to hear this . . . “Turning professional wasn’t an option,” Westermann said. “I always focused on finishing school first. I wanted to play for a team, but I still wanted to (get a) degree and improve as a person.”
Baldwin said Westermann has been a welcome late addition.
“Adding chemistry is always a question,” Baldwin said, “but he’s a solid person, with a solid personality and good work ethic.”
Toward the end of the final round of Westermann’s first tournament, the freshman asked Baldwin what he had to do to help the team win.
“That’s what I was most impressed with,” Baldwin says.
So why haven’t you heard of him? Because he has been here only two months.
Baldwin heard of him only after developing a relationship with the German Golf Association (Baldwin’s brother lives in Germany and he figured doing a little recruiting on those visits couldn’t hurt.) About the same time, Westermann had been sidelined with a broken ankle,and Baldwin said “nobody had been following him really closely.”
Now that he’s in America, it’s time to start.
• • •
A look ahead
What: Administaff ASU Invitational
When: April 3-4.
Where: Forest Hills Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Why it’s important: You’ve got to like the fact that a pretty good college tournament hits Augusta, Ga., a week before the Masters. It also will be interesting to see if third-ranked Augusta State can defend its home turf against the likes of Illinois (8), Clemson (14), South Carolina (17), Alabama (18), Tennessee (27), Chattanooga (30) and Duke (33).
• • •
What: ASU Thunderbird Invitational
When: April 2-3.
Where: ASU Karsten Golf Course, Tempe, Ariz.
Why it’s important: The best conference (Pac-10) in college golf is completely represented. Enough said.