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 from last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Today, it’s No. 26 on the board with the Arizona State men and UC Davis women.
ARIZONA STATE MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 26
Coach: Tim Mickelson (first year)
Top returnees: Jin Song, Spencer Fletcher
Top newcomers: Freshman Stan Gautier of France, freshman David Lowe of Scottsdale, Ariz., freshman Austin Quick of Scottsdale, Ariz, freshman Brandon Cloete of South Africa, freshman Mathias Schjoelberg of Norway.
Projected starting 5: Jin Song (Jr.), Spencer Fletcher (Sr.), Stan Gautier (Fr.), David Lowe (Fr.), Mathias Schjoelberg (Fr.)
Key losses: Scott Pinckney, Philip Francis, James Byrne, Jesper Kennegard
Key fall tournament: Olympia Fields
2010-11 recap: Arizona State entered last season with plenty of depth and talent. On paper, it appeared to be a team ready to make a run at a national championship. Instead, the Sun Devils barely made it into the postseason with a record of 89-86-3 and finished 18th at the NCAA Championship. Surprisingly, the disappointing season spelled the end for longtime ASU head coach Randy Lein, whose contract was not renewed after the season.
Taking his place is Tim Mickelson, formerly of the University of San Diego, a former ASU player and yes, the brother of the most famous Sun Devils golfer ever (that would be Phil).
“It was a disappointing year in the fact they should have been in the top eight for a national title,” Mickelson said. “With so much senior leadership, you expect that to be an outstanding year.” Instead, ASU failed to win a tournament and finished ninth at the Pac-10 Championship.
Player to watch: Mathias Schjoelberg. Said Mickelson: “He’s a player that 2 1/2 years ago was a can’t-miss kid. He then struggled for a bit, but this summer won the Norwegian Junior Amateur, and I expect to him play very well this year.”
2011-12 preview: Mickelson might be wondering what he got himself into. In his first year with the Sun Devils, he inherits a team with only one starter from a year ago, and five new recruits whom he didn’t recruit.
“I just don’t know what to expect,” Mickelson said. “We will have a lot of young players, and our success will depend on how they adjust to college life.”
Arizona State hopes Mickelson can provide the same spark for its program as he did at San Diego. Mickelson guided the Toreros to the NCAA finals three consecutive years, including a tie for eighth in 2010. Mickelson was part of the Sun Devils’ 1996 national-title team as a player before transferring to Oregon State for his senior season.
Not only will Mickelson bring loads of enthusiasm to the program, he also will bring more accountability and structure. “Players have told me they are already looking forward to having more structure around here,” Mickelson said. “I just hope they are up for the challenge.”
Mickelson said he thinks this is not a rebuilding process, but more of a transition. He hopes to have the program back as a national-title contender within the next three or four years.
Bottom line: If last year was the year the Sun Devils expected to contend for an NCAA Championship, this year may be a season they will be thrilled just to make it there. With a lineup that could included three or four freshmen starting, the Mickelson era at ASU could get off to a slow start. If one or two of the freshmen can make a quick adjustment to the college game, then perhaps the Sun Devils can surprise. Regardless, this will be an experimental season for ASU’s players and their new coach.
UC DAVIS WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 26
Coach: Anne Walker (fourth year)
Top returnees: Demi Runas, Amy Simanton
Top newcomers: Freshman Beverly Vatananugulkit of Cerritos, Calif., freshman Blair Lewis of San Diego, freshman Danielle Garner of Danville, Calif.,
Projected starting 5: Demi Runas (Jr.), Amy Simanton (Jr.), Jessica Chulya (So.), Beverly Vatananugulkit (Fr.), Blair Lewis (Fr.)
Key losses: Alice Kim, Chelsea Stelzmiller
Key fall tournament: Golfweek Conference Challenge
2010-11 recap: UC Davis had perhaps one of the most overlooked seasons in women’s college golf last year. At one point, UC Davis climbed to No. 14 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “It was a tremendous year,” coach Anne Walker said. “We met all our goals: winning conference, making it to regionals and playing at the national championship.”
The Aggies won twice last year (Fresno State Lexus Classic, Big West Conference Championship). After tying for third at the NCAA West Regional, they moved on to Bryan, Texas, for the NCAA Championship, where they finished 20th.
Player to watch: Beverly Vatananugulkit. Said Walker: “She’s a very accurate hitter with a great short game. Tee to green, she will not miss much, which helps her since she’s not too long. Great wedge game with a great putting game, which helps her with her lack of distance.”
2011-2012 preview: What made UC Davis so successful last year was that it had five starters who consistently put up good scores. A big part of the team’s success was because of Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller. Taking their places in the lineup will be freshmen Beverly Vatananugulkit and Blair Lewis.
“I’m anxious for the start of the year,” Walker said. “It is a complete unknown with two freshmen in the lineup.”
Wallace will rely on juniors Demi Runas, who finished last season at No. 65 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and Amy Simanton (No. 103) to lead not only on the course, but off it as well. “Demi has a good level head on her shoulders and will continue to improve,” Walker said. “Amy spent all last year making swing changes and never was confident with it.” Now that Simanton has had a full year with her new swing, Walker is hopeful that she will be confident using it in tournaments.
The secret weapon to the starting five, however, could be sophomore Jessica Chulya. According to Walker, Chulya never was confident with her game last season. The native of Thailand was No. 340 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings last season while playing in the team’s fifth spot. “Her goal was to work on her short game this summer,” Walker said. “With her game, she’s good enough to always shoot 75 or under.”
Bottom line: Some may say this team overachieved last season, but the truth is, the Aggies were a talented bunch. Demi Runas is a solid player and a strong No. 1, and Amy Simanton has the talent and ability to be a top 75 player. The wild card is the incoming freshmen. It will be hard for them to fill the shoes of Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller, but they should be able to turn in decent scores. The Aggies again will qualify for NCAA regionals, and if the freshmen come through, another trip to the NCAA finals is possible.