College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men’s and women’s teams. Today, it’s No. 34 on the board with the Michigan men and Oregon women.
2010-11 final ranking: 34
Coach: Chris Whitten (first year)
Top returnees: Matt Thompson, Jack Schultz
Top newcomers: Freshman Noori Hyun of South Korea, freshman Andrew Wong of Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Projected starting 5: Matt Thompson (Sr.), Jack Schultz (Jr.), Nos. 3-5 spots to be determined
Key losses: Lion Kim, Alexander Sitompul
Key fall tournament: Wolverine Invitational
2010-11 recap: Michigan was a hard team to figure last season. At times, the Wolverines played some really good golf, and at others they played, well, some downright bad golf. Michican began last fall with a ninth-place finish at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate, but after that won the Windon Memorial and rattled off three more top-5 finishes. In the spring, Michigan posted only one top 5 in six stroke-play events leading up to NCAA regionals.
“I thought we had a fairly average regular season,” said first-year head coach Chris Whitten, former assistant to Andrew Sapp, who left to become head coach at North Carolina this summer. “We had a great postseason, but I wish the firepower was there all year long.”
After finishing sixth at the Big Ten Championship, the Wolverines stunned many by winning the NCAA regional in Notre Dame, Ind. Michigan then almost played its way into the elite eight of match play at the NCAA Championship, but came up a few shots short and tied for 10th.
Player to watch: Matt Thompson. Said Whitten: “He holds the single-season scoring record at Michigan (set as a sophomore). He’s really grounded, and I think he’s ready to play great. A senior leader who will be our captain.”
2011-2012 preview: Despite losing coach Andrew Sapp to North Carolina, his alma mater, not much will change at the top in Ann Arbor. Whitten takes over the program after five years as an assistant with the Wolverines. “Hopefully it will be an easy transition for the guys,” Whitten said. “Hopefully the personality of the team remains the same, and we keep a steady progression going.”
The first thing Whitten must do is find a new No. 1 player. Gone is Lion Kim, who ended last season at No. 43 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Matt Thompson, No. 2 last year, ended the year ranked No. 163 and is the default No. 1 this season. To top things off, Whitten just found out Aug. 9 that sophomore Joey Garber, who was being counted on as the Wolverines’ No. 2 player, is leaving the team and planning to transfer to Georgia, a stunning setback this close to the season. Garber had finished his freshman year No. 220 in the Golfweek rankings, with top-4 finishes at The Ridges (T-2) and NCAA regionals (T-4).
That means the Wolverines likely will have to rely on two seldom-used golfers from last year: juniors Miguel Echavarria of Colombia (younger brother of former Florida player Andres Echavarria) and Rahul Bakshi of India. Whitten is hoping this could be their breakout seasons. “Rahul came to Michigan as the Indian Amateur champ and set high expectations for himself,” Whitten said. “Miguel is due for a breakout year, but he needs to believe he can do it.”
Bottom line: With Kim and Garber gone, Thompson must step up and become a top-100 player. He has the potential, but it’s not a given. Expect Whitten to tinker with the back end of the lineup, but don’t be surprised if incoming freshmen Noori Hyun and Andrew Wong end the season in the starting five. This seems to be a transition year for Michigan. Another trip to regionals would be an accomplishment in itself.
2010-11 final ranking: 34
Coach: Ria Scott (third year)
Top returnees: Ashley Edwards, Cheyenne Hickle
Top newcomers: Freshman Cali Hipp of Caldwell, Idaho, freshman Cassy Isagawa of Wailuku, Hawaii, freshman Monica Petchakan of Encino, Calif.
Projected starting 5: Ashley Edwards (Sr.), Cheyenne Hickle (Jr.), Raphaela Dyer (So.), Cassy Isagawa (Fr.), Cali Hipp (Fr.)
Key losses: Kendra Little (set Oregon’s all-time low scoring average record), Erica Omlid
Key fall tournament: Pac-12/SEC Challenge
2010-11 recap: It was an up-and-down season for the Ducks. Oregon had two victories (Dick McGuire Invitational, Pacific Coast Intercollegiate) and two third-place finishes to go with several middle-of-the-pack finishes and three finishes of 10th or worse. “In a lot of ways, we underachieved,” coach Ria Scott said. “We had some injuries and illnesses in the fall that we just couldn’t bounce back from.”
At the NCAA West Regional, it appeared early on that Oregon would play its way into the NCAA Championship for a second consecutive year. However, the team struggled the last two rounds and missed advancing to the NCAA finals by a shot, ending their season with a ninth-place finish.
Player to watch: Raphaela Dyer. Said Scott: “Because she underachieved last year, I think she’ll be ready to redeem herself this year. She has made a lot of club adjustments in the past year, but needs to work on her putting. A great ballstriker who knows how to shape shots well. Her biggest adjustment was the transition of putting on U.S. greens from the greens in England. ”
2011-2012 preview: Oregon may be facing a bit of a rebuilding year. The Ducks start the season without all-time scoring leader Kendra Little. Now the focus will be on the top returnee, senior Ashley Edwards, who will have to play like a No. 1 for this team to get back to the NCAA Championship. She started last season as the team’s No. 3 player, but finished as the Ducks No. 2.
Scott is hoping that missing nationals by a stoke last year motivates her squad.
“This is a hungry team, Scott said. “The girls are going to come in fired up and will be ready to tee it up when we get to campus.”
Junior Cheyenne Hickle is another player who could be a difference-maker for the Ducks. According to Scott, Hickle is ready to take her game to the next level. “She’s a long player that has a great iron game,” Scott said. “Her putting has been a bit streaky, but her course management is excellent.”
Oregon expects two freshman – Cassy Isagawa and Cali Hipp – in its starting five to start the year. They are unproven players, but Scott thinks they will adjust to college smoothly. The big question for the Ducks will be depth. If the new recruits don’t pan out early, the Ducks could be in for a rough start.
Bottom line: Oregon has made it to the NCAA Championship only once in the past 10 years (2010), a trend the team hopes to change in the near future. The Ducks lack depth and don’t have a whole lot of experience. If the two freshmen can have an immediate impact, a regional bid is a certainty. But Oregon likely will have to wait another year to return to nationals.