Last fall there were several surprises and disappointments in college golf. On the women’s side, LSU seems to be the surprise team of the year, whereas on the men’s you could make a case that the best team in the state of Texas is … North Texas.
As we prepare for the second half of the college golf season, I pored over my notes, considered some scenarios, and thought, What if…?
What if Peter Uihlein played at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational? Uihlein was a no-go for the Cowboys because he was in Argentina for the World Amateur Team Championship. Oklahoma State shot 31-over 895 to tie for fifth in Tiger Woods’ backyard. Replacing the game’s No. 1-ranked player was Ian Davis, who finished T-68 with scores of 78-83-81. Even if Uihlein was there and shot rounds of 76-76-76, the Cowboys still would have had an 11-shot improvement and could have either tied Alabama or forced a playoff. Oklahoma State finished the fall ranked No. 2 in the country, but what if Uihlein played at Isleworth? Would OSU be No. 1? Also, for those wondering, in 2009 Uihlein shots rounds of 68-73-75, finishing T-3 at Isleworth. Oklahoma State finished the fall with a second-place finish at the Fighting Illini Invitational, first at the Ping/Golfweek Preview and first at the Jack Nicklaus, before the T-5 at Isleworth. What if they closed out the fall with three straight victories?
What if the Pac-10 has four perennial postseason teams finish with sub-.500 records? Would the majority of people still feel that the Pac-10 is the country’s strongest conference? Yes, UCLA finished the fall ranked No. 1, and Stanford, Cal and Washington are ranked in the top 30, but you have to look deeper. Right now the 32nd-ranked USC Trojans are 23-24-1, and Arizona State is ranked 38th and finished the fall with a head-to-head record of 16-29. Oregon, an NCAA semifinalist last spring, closed out the fall ranked 42nd and had a head-to-head record of 30-37, but even more surprising was Arizona, which closed out the fall ranked 87th, with a head-to-head record of 11-31! What if the Pac-10 sent only five teams to the postseason, as opposed to the nine out of 10 it sent last year? Would the Pac-10 still be considered the conference to beat?
What if the best team in the state of Texas isn’t the Longhorns, Aggies or Red Raiders, but the Mean Green? This year North Texas has finished first at the UTA/Waterchase Invitational, second at the William Tucker and third at the Lone Star Invitational. Brad Stracke has quickly helped North Texas climb the rankings, as the Mean Green ended the fall No. 29 in the country. North Texas had a head-to-head record of 38-3 in the fall, but faced only one team in the top 25. If given the chance, could the Mean Green surprise the state of Texas, and all of us around the country, as well? What if the Mean Green were the best team in the state of Texas?
What if women’s college golf was comprised of only four conferences? Of the top 20 teams in the country, only three are not from either the SEC, ACC, Pac-10 or Big Ten. In fact, the last school to win a championship outside the Big Four conferences was San Jose State, in 1992. In the current top 20, seven teams are from the SEC, four from the ACC, four from the Pac-10, and two from the Big Ten. Tulane, Oklahoma and Notre Dame are the only schools ranked in the top 20 not affiliated from one of those four conferences. So, what if the women’s game was just four conferences? Can anyone make an argument for a team in another conference that can make a run for a national championship this year? I know I can’t.
What if Arizona State played an event in the fall? True, the Sun Devils would have had to put up a Help Wanted poster on campus to fill some roster spots, but at least they would have played. In the meantime, ASU played zero tournaments as a team, and are nowhere to be found in the rankings. With a weak supporting cast for Carlota Ciganda and Giulia Molinaro, those two could have at least gotten their feet wet. The NCAA has no sub-.500 winning percentage rule for women’s golf, and the Sun Devils, with a full roster of scholarship golfers in the spring, easily could have climbed the rankings. Now, the questions will arise: Should a team that didn’t even play in the fall participate at all? Seems to be a fair question, but what if ASU would have teed it up this fall? Their record probably wouldn’t have been very strong, but they would have had all spring to improve.
What if Alabama, which closed out the fall ranked No. 1, finished strong and ended the spring No. 1, as well? Each year at NCAAs, Alabama is always a team to talk about, but is rarely one ever picked to win it all. However, if the Crimson Tide, who play a tough schedule all year long, closed the regular season ranked No. 1, then people would have to take notice. Everyone expects Duke, UCLA, USC, ASU and Purdue to win. Coach Mic Potter’s team won twice in the fall, and one of those wins was at the Preview. What if Alabama can get it done for one more semester and enter NCAAs ranked No. 1? Would people believe that the Crimson Tide are legit, or would they say it was just a great season?