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. 20 on the board with the Stanford men and Pepperdine women.
2010-11 final ranking: 20
Coach: Conrad Ray (eighth year)
Top returnees: Andrew Yun, David Chung
Top newcomers: Freshman Patrick Rodgers of Avon, Ind., freshman Marcel Puyat of the Philippines, freshman Patrick Grimes of Palo Alto, Calif.
Projected starting 5: Andrew Yun (So.), David Chung (Sr.), Patrick Rodgers (Fr.), Cameron Wilson (So.), Steve Kearney (Jr.)
Key losses: Steve Ziegler, Sihwan Kim, Graham Brockington
Key fall tournament: Olympia Fields
2010-11 recap: For a team that was as loaded as Stanford, it was a disappointing season for coach Conrad Ray and the Cardinal. Stanford failed to win a tournament and failed to advance to the NCAA Championship after a stunning sixth-place finish at NCAA regionals. “It was a weird year,” Ray said. “If you would have told me that (Sihwan) Kim was only going to play in three tournaments, and David Chung wasn’t going to be all-conference, I’d have bet my paycheck (that wasn’t going to happen).”
Despite Chung’s struggles and Kim’s injury, Stanford had a new star emerge. Andrew Yun often was overshadowed by fellow freshman Patrick Cantlay of UCLA, but Yun had a great season of his own. Yun was the low Cardinal at nine tournaments last year, including a victory at The Prestige at PGA West.
Player to watch: Andrew Yun. Said Ray: “I think he is motivated to show people he is a first-team guy again. He will contend and go into tournaments expecting to win. He is one of the most focused kids I have ever had, and takes care of his business better then anyone I have ever seen.”
2011-12 preview: Last year, the Cardinal embodied the term, “That’s why you play the game.” On paper, Stanford arguably had one of the best teams in the country, but it was a squad that never got to contend for a national title. This year, expectations will be high once again, and perhaps with even bigger named golfers.
Sophomore Andrew Yun, who ended his freshman year at No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, will have a challenger for his top spot in the Cardinal lineup. Incoming freshman and U.S. Walker Cup member Patrick Rodgers should have an instant impact on the college scene. “He wants to be the guy we rely on,” Ray said. “He’s mature beyond his years, and is very keen to Stanford golf.” With Yun and Rodgers at the 1-2 positions, Stanford could have two top-10 players by season’s end.
For Stanford to compete for a national title though, they need more from David Chung. After a 2010 summer that saw him win the Porter Cup and Western Amateur and finish runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, Chung was a preseason Player of the Year candidate, but struggled throughout the fall. By the time the season ended, Chung was ranked No. 188. “He was trying to be too mechanical in the fall,” Ray said. “He lost some confidence, and lost some of his touch and finesse.”
Another player looking for a bounce-back year is sophomore Cameron Wilson. Many thought he would have a freshman year at least as good as Yun’s, but that never materialized. Instead, Wilson posted only two top-25 finishes and ended the season as the Cardinal’s No. 4 player.
Ray, however, thinks his squad will rebound this season and compete for victories and a national title.
“I think we are in a group with the top teams in the country with our roster,” Ray said. “We need to show it though, and not just think about it.”
Bottom line: Stanford arguably will have one of the toughest schedules in the country, starting the fall season at Olympia Fields, followed by appearances at The Prestige at PGA West, Isleworth and Corde Valle. With Yun, Rodgers and Chung atop the lineup, the Cardinal should be scary good. The talent is there to contend at the NCAA Championship, but, as last season proved, championships aren’t won on paper.
2010-11 final ranking: 20
Coach: Laurie Gibbs (19th year)
Top returnees: Grace Na, Kaitlin Drolson
Top newcomers: Freshman Alina Ching of Honolulu, freshman Somin Lee of Denver
Projected starting 5: Grace Na (So.), Kaitlin Drolson (Sr.), Liv Cheng (So.), Alina Ching (Fr.), fifth spot TBA
Key losses: Danielle Kang (academically ineligible), Taylore Karle
Key fall tournament: Golfweek Conference Challenge
2010-11 recap: Pepperdine’s chances of making a run in the postseason were all but crushed when Danielle Kang was ruled academically ineligible. After winning twice during the regular season, the Waves were a team many thought could make some noise at the NCAA Championship with a strong starting three of Kang, Grace Na and Taylore Karle. Instead, without their star player, Pepperdine finished a disappointing 15th at the NCAA West Regional.
“There were many positives, but we didn’t finish out the year the way we had planned,” coach Laurie Gibbs said. “I thought the freshmen played well, but in the end we were disappointed not making it to the finals.”
On the bright side, the Waves did win their 10th consecutive West Coast Conference title.
Player to watch: Grace Na. Said Gibbs: “She is a very good player and has shown tremendous potential. She truly enjoys competing and really matured quickly those few months she was on the team. A great contributor that I enjoy coaching a lot.”
2011-12 preview: Pepperdine will begin the fall with a limited roster of only six players. That means the Waves must avoid injuries and also that at least one, if not both, incoming freshmen (Alina Ching and Somin Lee) will see significant playing time. Ching has seen college golf through her brother’s eyes the last few years. Her older brother Alex is a standout player at the University of San Diego. “I think she has seen her brother’s success and is ready to compete in college,” Gibbs said. “She is a very consistent player who has a real good short game and knows how to hit fairways and greens.”
Lee, of Denver, didn’t start playing golf until age 12. Gibbs calls her a raw talent who escaped the notice of many college coaches, but given time to develop, Gibbs thinks she can become a key part of the Waves lineup in the future.
There is no question who will lead the way for the Waves: Na, who finished her freshman season at No. 39 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and was named the WCC Freshman of the Year, even though she missed the fall season and didn’t enroll until January. Gibbs thinks Na will be one of the country’s top players this season.
For Pepperdine to get back to the NCAA finals, senior Kaitlin Drolson needs to have a breakout year and show leadership on and off the course. “As our senior, we need her to be a big part of our success,” Gibbs said of the team’s No. 4 player last season. “She should and will have a lot of impact on our team in her last year.”
Bottom line: Na is a solid No. 1, but it’s unclear how good her supporting cast will be. When Kang – the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who recently turned pro – left Malibu, Pepperdine’s chances of being a true national contender this season left with her. The Waves have been a perennial top-25 team, but this season that ranking will be tested. Na will most likely make it to nationals this year, but it’s questionable whether her teammates will join her.