Augusta State won last year’s NCAA Championship after not qualifying for the previous year’s championship. Here are four teams that could qualify for the 2011 NCAA Championship (and even make their way into match play at Karsten Creek) after not making it to last season’s championship at The Honors Course.
It’s no coincidence that three of these teams come from the Big Ten. This should be a very competitive season in the conference.
Georgia, No. 3 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, is an obvious candidate to lead this list, but that’d be too easy. Same with Alabama, which is ranked eighth in Golfweek’s preseason poll after adding freshmen Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett.
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2009-10 Golfweek rank: 35
The scoop: This team closely resembles last season’s Augusta State squad. The Jaguars were 36th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings in 2008-’09, the season before they won the championship. Auburn was 35th last year.
Like Augusta State in advance of its NCAA title run, Auburn has significantly upgraded its roster. Last year, Augusta State added transfer Patrick Reed, and Mitch Krywulycz returned after a redshirt season.
Auburn may have undergone an even bigger upgrade. They have three transfers eligible to play this season – Blayne Barber, Dominic Bozelli and Michael Hebert. Barber, No. 8 in Golfweek’s preseason player rankings, and Bozelli, the Eastern Amateur champ and semifinalist at the ’08 U.S. Junior, both sat out last season after following head coach Nick Clinard from the University of Central Florida.
Hebert transferred to Auburn this summer after his freshman season at Florida State. Hebert was No. 258 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season. He finished 18th at the NCAA Championship.
Auburn is No. 12 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings. Augusta State started last season ranked eighth.
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2009-10 Golfweek rank: 49
The scoop: The Hawkeyes were surprise qualifiers for the 2009 NCAA Championship; they missed last season’s championship by a single shot.
Head coach Mark Hankins returns all five starters from the team that was runner-up to Illinois at the Big Ten Championship and finished sixth at the Central Regional. U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist Jed Dirksen will be eligible to play for the team in the spring. Dirksen should provide a big boost to the lineup down the stretch.
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2009-10 Golfweek rank: 50
The scoop: Lion Kim is coming off a strong amateur summer, which should bode well for the Wolverines.
Kim, No. 109 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, won the U.S. Amateur Public Links, made the Sweet 16 at the Western Amateur and finished in the top six at the Monroe Invitational and Canadian Amateur. Kim was one of the heroes of Michigan’s run to the semifinals in the 2009 NCAA Championship, hitting a hybrid within a foot of the hole to close out his quarterfinal match against USC’s Matt Giles.
Matt Thompson, No. 88 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is the team’s top-ranked returner; he finished second in the Big Ten Championship. Jack Schultz was last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year after finishing fifth in the conference championship.
Joey Garber is one of Golfweek’s “freshmen to watch” after winning the Michigan Junior and Michigan Amateur this summer.
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2009-10 Golfweek rank: 51
The scoop: The Wildcats have the past two Big Ten champs on their team – Eric Chun and David Lipsky. This could be the year for Northwestern to experience team glory. Chun, the ’09 Asian Amateur runner-up, qualified for the British Open, shooting 71-76 to miss the cut by a shot.
The Wildcats return their top three players from last season – Lipsky, Chun and Josh Dupont – and five of their top six. They also add strong freshmen in Hawaii’s Bradley Shigezawa and Jack Perry.
Shigezawa’s transition to college golf should be eased by his success against older competition, especially professionals, in the many open championships in Hawaii. Shigezawa has finished in the top 5 in the past two Mid-Pacific Opens. He also was low amateur at the ’09 and ’08 Hawaii Pearl Opens, finishing ahead of Ryo Ishikawa in ’08.