The transition to college golf isn’t always an easy one, even for the best junior players in the country. But plenty of freshmen have gotten off to good starts this season. Some, such as Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and Yaroslav Merkulov, were expected to perform well out of the gates. Others are not household names. Here are some impressive freshmen who you may not have heard of yet:
• Michael Miller, Penn State: Miller, from Brewster, N.Y., finished sixth in his collegiate debut at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate, then won the Maryland Intercollegiate.
“Mike had an exciting summer, winning the (Metropolitan Golf Association) Junior, and qualifying for and making match play in the U.S. Am,” Penn State head coach Greg Nye said. “Mike has a very good sense for how to play the game, along with being technically sound. He has terrific feel and a well-developed short game. Like a lot of strong players, he relishes competition.”
Miller won the 2009 Golfweek Junior Invitational.
• Matt Hansen, UC Davis: Hansen, a two-time U.S. Amateur qualifier from Los Osos, Calif., finished 10th in his collegiate debut at the Kikkor Husky Invitational. Hansen was the low freshman at the event with rounds of 69-72-73. At one point during the final round, Hansen was in second place.
UC Davis head coach Cy Williams said sound fundamentals and good course management have contributed to Hansen’s success. Hansen has a good combination of intensity and composure, he said.
“He has a beautiful golf swing and setup,” Williams said. “When you watch him get ready to hit a ball, you wonder how he won’t hit it well. Great posture, very relaxed. (He’s) strong and powerful, so he’s able to hit the ball a long way without 100-percent effort, which really helps his control.
“Maybe the most impressive part of his game is his focus and gameplan out there. He almost always chooses the conservative path so he’s always hitting shots that are easier to execute. This is a concept that much older players have a lot of trouble grasping. He also almost always hits the shots that are to his strength. He did a great job taking notes during the practice round, and you could just see the intensity in him. He was out there getting ready to do well in a tournament.”
Hansen finished 20th at the Trans-Miss Championship and 24th at the Scratch Players Championship this summer.
• Greg Eason, Central Florida: Eason tied for 62nd in his collegiate debut at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate, but the England native rebounded to win the Adams Cup of Newport.
The Adams Cup was played in high winds at a seaside layout, Newport National Golf Club in Middletown, R.I., so maybe it’s no surprise that he found success there.
Eason represented England at the 2010 European Boys’ Team Championship in Turkey. He also advanced to the third round of the British Boys’ Amateur.
• Albin Choi, North Carolina State: Choi, of Toronto, is the latest impressive Canadian to play for Richard Sykes in Raleigh. Choi won the Canadian Amateur this summer before beginning his college career.
Choi has played well in two college starts, finishing 18th at The Invitational at Kiawah and T-9 at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.
• Niall Platt, Notre Dame: Platt couldn’t have faced a much tougher course in his collegiate debut. He finished second at The Invitational at Kiawah, held at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup.
Platt played steady, shooting 74-70-73 to finish at 1-over 217. He was one of only three players in the field without a round higher than 74.
“He showed incredible composure,” said Notre Dame head coach Jim Kubinski.
Don Parsons, of Twin Lakes Golf Course in Goleta, Calif., teaches both Platt and Hansen.
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Some Mean newcomers
Two of Mexico’s top amateurs and two transfers from Southeastern Conference schools could help the Mean Green of North Texas be one of this season’s surprise teams.
North Texas, 79th in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, opened its season with a dominant victory at the UTA/Waterchase Invitational. The Mean Green shot 20-under 844 at Waterchase Golf Club in Arlington, Texas, to beat Southern Mississippi by 21 shots.
“We have a long way to go, but I was really pleased with the way the kids kept battling and playing the entire time,” said head coach Brad Stracke. “It’s always good to start the year off with a win.”
Sophomore Curtis Donahoe shot 7-under 209 to tie for medalist honors. Four of the Mean Green’s top five finishers at Waterchase are sophomores – Donahoe, Rodolfo Cazaubon (T-12), Carlos Ortiz (T-15) and Ty Spinella (T-37).
Cazaubon, who finished eighth at the NCAA West Regional last year, and Ortiz will represent Mexico at the World Amateur Team Championship in Argentina in October.
The Mean Green also got assistance from two transfers in their first season with the team.
Josh Jones, of The Colony, Texas, finished ninth. Jones, who transferred after two seasons at LSU, was a three-time AJGA All-American but struggled with the Tigers. He finished 554th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings as a freshman and was No. 431 last season.
Spinella, of Fort Worth, Texas, redshirted the 2008-09 season at Arkansas, then played in three tournaments for the Razorbacks last season.
“Coming from Arkansas and the SEC, I’ve played against the best, and to see where we are right now, I think we can play with the best,” Spinella said. “Hopefully, as the season goes on, we will play against some higher ranked teams and keep showing what type of team we are.”
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Liberty finished third at the Golfweek Conference Challenge after posting a school-record 271 in the final round. . . . North Carolina State’s Brandon Detweiler, the team’s lone senior, finished third at the Golfweek Conference Challenge for his second consecutive top 10 to start the season. Detweiler shot a first-round 79 at the Invitational at Kiawah, but has shot par or better in each of his past five rounds.
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A look ahead
What: Ping/Golfweek Preview
Where: Karsten Creek, Stillwater, Okla.
When: Sept. 26-28
Why it’s important: This event gives many of the nation’s top teams a sneak peek at Karsten Creek, which will host the NCAA Championship in the spring. It also gives the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Golfweek’s preseason No. 1, a gauge of where they stand. The Cowboys started the season with a runner-up showing at Olympia FIelds. Anything less than a victory here will be considered a disappointment.