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. 33 on the board with the Liberty men and TCU women.
2010-11 final ranking: 33
Coach: Jeff Thomas (eighth year)
Top returnees: Robert Karlsson, Max McKay
Top newcomers: Freshman Mathieu Fenasse of France, junior Nak Young Jeh (returns after two years in South Korean military)
Projected starting 5: Robert Karlsson (Sr.), Max McKay (Jr.), Andrew Colvin (Jr.), Ian McConnell (So.), Chase Marinell (So.)
Key losses: Preston Dembowiak
Key fall tournament: Gopher Invitational
2010-11 recap: When perusing last season’s final Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, many college golf observers likely raised an eyebrow when they saw Liberty at No. 33. Just four years ago, this program was ranked 195th in the country and finished the 2009-10 season at No. 88. “We are taking big steps with this program,” coach Jeff Thomas said. “We come to every tournament prepared, but our biggest disappointment was failing to advance from regionals.”
The Flames won one event last year, the Big South Championship, and lost in a playoff at the Rees Jones Intercollegiate to fellow mid-major upstart Kennesaw State. In all, Liberty posted eight top-5 finishes, but its worst showing of the year came at a bad time – NCAA regionals, where it finished 10th.
Player to watch: Robert Karlsson. Said Thomas: “He’s the guy that you want your other guys to follow. When he plays well, we play well, (and) when he struggles, we seem to struggle. He hits it really well and has had a really strong summer.”
2011-2012 preview: This may finally be the year that the Flames reach the NCAA Championship for the first time in the program’s history. Expectations are high in Lynchburg, Va. “(Our) goal is to make it match play and see what happens,” Thomas said. “We need to take the next step, and that is to be in the top 25.”
Thomas is hoping for a fast start in the fall to give his team momentum. A year ago, the Flames had the 104th-toughest schedule in the country, but that will change this year with better tournaments and more chances to compete against teams ranked in the top 50. Liberty faced only 38 top-50 teams a year ago, and a large percentage of those came at NCAA regionals.
This fall, Thomas is hopeful that sophomore Ian McConnell can take a big leap forward with his game. “He only played in a few events as a freshman last year,” Thomas said. “His game is starting to improve, and we need him to step up and take off.” If Thomas can be the No. 3 starter in the Liberty lineup, the Flames could very well be on their way to the top 25.
Bottom line: How good is Liberty? We’ll find out soon. The Flames rarely saw top-50 teams last season, but that will change this season. Robert Karlsson is an outstanding player and gives the team a strong No. 1. Karlsson can handle top competition, but it remains to be seen whether his teammates can as well. This is a big season for Liberty, and it will be interesting to see how they live up to lofty expectations. If everything clicks just right, they have a shot at the NCAA Championship, but don’t be surprised if the Flames once again fall just short of nationals.
2010-11 final ranking: 33
Coach: Angie Ravaioli-Larkin (18th year)
Top returnees: Brooke Beeler, Rachel Raastad
Top newcomers: Freshman Alexandra Bonetti of France, freshman Elisabeth Haavardsholm of Norway, freshman April McCoy of Dallas
Projected starting 5: Brooke Beeler (Sr.), Sanna Nuutinen (So.), Alexandra Bonetti (Fr.), Rachel Raastad (Sr.), April McCoy (Fr.)
Key losses: Prisela Campbell, Melissa Loh
Key fall tournament: Golfweek Conference Challenge
2010-11 recap: It was a disappointing season for TCU. After advancing to the NCAA Championship for four consecutive years, the Horned Frogs failed to advance out of the NCAA East Regional after a 10-place finish. “It was an up-and-down year for us,” coach Angie Ravaioli-Larkin said. “We won twice, but it was a major disappointment not to get back to nationals.”
TCU struggled at events with top fields (eighth at Ping/ASU Invitational, 12th at LSU, 15th at the Battle at Rancho Bernardo), but won events where the competition wasn’t as deep. The team won the Alamo Invitational in the fall, and closed out the regular season with a victory at the Mountain West Conference Championship.
Player to watch: Brooke Beeler. Said Ravaioli-Larkin: “She was close to being an All-American last year. . . . She is at a point where she is ready to win at some big tournaments.”
2011-2012 preview: TCU traditionally has been known as a team that comes alive when it matters the most: in the postseason. This year, however, Ravaioli-Larkin believes that won’t be an issue. “This team is by far the best team I have ever had talent-wise (Nos.) 1-7,” Ravaioli-Larkin said. “There is no reason why this team shouldn’t be top 10 in the country.”
Atop the lineup for the Horned Frogs will be Beeler, who posted an individual victory at the Alamo Invitational. Beeler finished last season at No. 53 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, but should be a top-30 player this year.
One player who could have an instant impact not just for the Horned Frogs, but in all of college golf this season is freshman Alexandra Bonetti, a member of France’s national team. Last summer, Bonetti won the Girls’ British Open Amateur.
“She is one of the best five incoming freshman in the country,” Ravaioli-Larkin said. “By the end of the year, I expect her to be pushing Beeler and Beeler pushing her.”
Fellow freshmen April McCoy and Elisabeth Haazardsholm also are expected to push for spots in the TCU lineup. If those two can carry their junior success over to the college game, then TCU might have three freshmen in the lineup by the postseason.
Bottom line: Traditionally, the Horned Frogs are a team that peaks late in the season, but with three freshman maybe a new attitude is on the horizon. Beeler is a great leader and solid No. 1. Ravaioli-Larkin is touting her team’s top-10 potential, but that remains to be seen for a team that will be starting at least two freshmen. Regardless, TCU is too talented not to return to nationals.