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. 25 on the board with the Tennessee men and the Notre Dame women.
2010-11 final ranking: 25
Coach: Jim Kelson (14th year)
Top returnees: Garrick Porteous, Danny Keddie
Top newcomers: Junior Rick Lamb (transfer from Santa Clara)
Projected starting 5: Garrick Porteous (Sr.), Danny Keddie (So.), Darren Renwick (Sr.), Jay Vandeventer (Jr.), No. 5 spot TBA
Key losses: Robin Wingardh
Key fall tournament: Carpet Capital
2010-11 recap: After a disappointing fall, the Volunteers had a record below .500 and were in danger of missing the postseason. In the spring, Tennessee was a completely different team, finishing in the top 5 in four of six starts and easily finishing above the .500 mark to earn an NCAA regional berth. The Vols ended the regular season with a runner-up finish at the Insperity Augusta State Invitational, followed by a third place at the always-deep SEC Championship. They then advanced out of regionals to make the NCAA Championship. That’s where their improved play hit a wall, as they finished a disappointing 24th. Still, Kelson was happy with the way his team rebounded in the spring.
“We were proud of how our team battled back after a rough fall,” Kelson said. “We dug ourselves in a hole, but the team never gave up and we made it to nationals.”
Player to watch: Garrick Porteous. Said Kelson: “He’s just gotten better and better each year in our program. An extremely good driver off the tee, and he has great confidence. He has played really consistently, and I think he has developed a belief in himself that he can be one of the best (college) players.”
2011-12 preview: Tennessee could be in line for another difficult fall with the loss of Robin Wingardh to graduation. Wingardh was the No. 30 player in the nation at the end of last season in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and a big reason why the Vols had so much spring success. This season, another senior is expected to be the team’s go-to player: Garrick Porteous. Often overshadowed by Wingardh, Porteous also was a top-100 player a year ago (No. 90).
Tennessee has plenty of experience on this season’s roster, but many of the Vols have yet to reach their potential. Senior Darren Renwick and junior Jay Vandeventer played in a combined 23 tournaments a year ago but consistently posted the team’s fourth- and fifth-best scores. Kelson could have some tough team qualifiers, as he expects sophomores Marshall Talkington, Brandon Rodgers and fifth-year senior Justin Walker also to be in the mix for starting spots.
“I think we have a good nucleus of players coming back,” Kelson said. “I expect qualifiers to be interesting, and I’m anxious to see whose games have improved the most over the summer.”
Only one new addition will join the team this year: junior Rick Lamb, a junior transfer from Santa Clara who finished last season ranked No. 234. “He has a lot of experience, and was one of the top players in the West Coast Conference,” Kelson said. “He finished 13th at his (NCAA) regional out West, and won a mini-tour event over the summer.”
Bottom line: If Tennessee gets off to a slow start again this fall, it may not be able to recover. The Vols have arguably one of the toughest schedules in the country and will need steady play from top to bottom. Last year, Tennessee had a nice 1-2 punch with Wingardh and Porteous, but this year Porteous might be asked to do too much because of his limited supporting cast. Another top-25 ranking would be considered a success.
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NOTRE DAME WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 25
Coach: Susan Holt (sixth year)
Top returnees: Becca Huffer, Kristina Nhim
Top newcomers: Freshman Kelly Oride of Lihue, Hawaii, freshman Ashley Armstrong of Flossmoor, Ill.
Projected starting 5: Becca Huffer (Sr.), Kristina Nhim (So.), Kelly Oride (Fr.), Ashley Armstrong (Fr.), Katie Allare (Sr.)
Key losses: Nicole Zhang, So-Hyun Park, Katie Conway
Key fall tournament: The Landfall
2010-11 recap: Last season could not have gone much better for Susan Holt’s Notre Dame program – except maybe for a higher finish at the NCAA Championship. The Fighting Irish won four times, with victories at the Marry Fossum Invitational, William K. Warren Invitational, John Kirk/Panther Intercollegiate and Big East Championship.
“It all came together last season,” Holt said. “That team was comprised of players from our last four years of recruiting hard and building the program.”
Notre Dame hosted the NCAA Central Regional and finished fifth to advance to its first NCAA finals. At nationals, however, the team struggled to a 23rd-place finish in the 24-team field.
Player to watch: Becca Huffer. Said Holt: “She has the most experience and is a senior leader. She has been a key contributor the last three years and is real close to winning. She will keep this team together and be crucial for us to get back to the finals this year.”
2011-12 preview: Coming off the best season in school history, there is a bit of concern for the Irish. Nicole Zhang, the team’s best player who ended her freshman season at No. 47 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, left the program and is likely to transfer to another school. That makes senior Becca Huffer, who finished last season ranked No. 94, Notre Dame’s new No. 1 player. “She knows how to lead a team,” Holt said. “Her game has continuously gotten better, and she could become someone who wins multiple times this year.”
Notre Dame enters the season with only five players on the roster. Holt doesn’t see anyone joining the team this season, either. That means all five Irish players will have to contribute and stay healthy. “Not concerned with depth at all,” Holt said. “We have capable players in place, and we will be fine.”
Incoming freshmen Ashley Armstrong and Kelly Oride will gain valuable experience, but also might feel the pressure of having to succeed early. Armstrong, though, should be confident to start the season after an impressive summer in which she won the AJGA’s Coca-Cola Junior Championship and the Women’s Western Junior.
With only five players, Notre Dame needs redshirt senior Kelly Allare to have her best season. Allare played in six events for the Irish last year, but rarely had her score count. Holt believes Allare can take her game to a new level and be a contributor.
Bottom line: The Irish’s top player is gone, and the roster is thin. With a lack of depth, their biggest concern is avoiding injuries and getting consistent contributions from all five players. The Irish season will depend largely on how quickly their two freshmen can adjust to college competition. Unless everything goes just right, a second consecutive trip to nationals might be a stretch.