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. 19 on the board with the California men and Georgia women.
2010-11 final ranking: 19
Coach: Steve Desimone (33rd year)
Top returnees: Max Homa, Brandon Hagy
Top newcomers: Junior Pace Johnson (transfer from Cal Poly), freshman Michael Kim of San Diego
Projected starting 5: Max Homa (Jr.), Brandon Hagy (So.), Pace Johnson (Jr.), Michael Kim (Fr.), Joel Stalter (So.)
Key losses: Eric Mina, Stephen Hale, Ben An
Key fall tournament: Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
2010-11 recap: Perhaps the most overlooked Pac-10 team from a year ago was California. With three victories (The Prestige at PGA West, Alister MacKenzie Invitational, John Burns Intercollegiate) the Bears quietly finished in the top 20. “Overall, it was a great season,” longtime coach Steve Desimone said. “We had some tough times in the spring, but we played well for most of the year and deserved to be at nationals.”
With its third-place finish at NCAA regionals, Cal advanced to the NCAA Championship, where the Bears got off to a slow start and finished a disappointing 19th after stroke play. Another downer at nationals: Freshman Ben An, the 2009 U.S. Amateur champion, announced that he would not return for his sophomore year. An will turn pro after this week’s U.S. Amateur.
Player to watch: Max Homa. Said Desimone: “He continues to get better and has a chance to be one of the top players in college golf. Has a very traditional swing and knows his yardages really well. Has learned how to manage his game, but his short game could improve. Overall, his progression has made him a special player.”
2011-12 preview: Entering the first season of the Pac-12, most people still would not refer to Cal as a top team. Competing in a conference with UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oregon and Washington, it’s easy to be overlooked. “I look at the conference and it never slows down or backs off,” Desimone said. “The conference is loaded with great players, teams, and coaches.” Desimone has coached at Cal for 33 years and says he has never seen college golf as competitive as it is now.
Cal will be without An, but Desimone feels he has players who can step in and play well immediately. The Bears will be led Homa, one of the better players in the conference, though he’s often overshadowed by the bigger names of Patrick Cantlay, Andrew Yun, and Chris Williams.
Hoping to step in and contribute immediately will be incoming freshman Michael Kim, “a golf junkie who loves to compete,” Desimone said. “As he gets bigger and stronger, he’ll only get better.” Another new addition is junior transfer Pace Johnson from Cal Poly, where he was Big West Conference Freshman of the Year and led the Mustangs in scoring average.
Bottom line: If you were making a list of the top teams in the Pac-12, how long would it take until you wrote down Cal? There is no doubt how deep and talented the conference is, which could be the downfall of the Bears. There’s no doubt Cal is a postseason team, but with An not returning, the Bears are still a ways away from being a national contender.
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2010-11 final ranking: 19
Coach: Kelley Hester (fifth year)
Top returnees: Marta Silva Zamora, Emilie Burger
Top newcomers: Freshman Collins Bradshaw of Columbia, S.C., freshman Rocio Sanchez Lobato of Spain
Projected starting 5: Marta Silva Zamora (Sr.), Emilie Burger (Jr.), Milena Savich (Sr.), Nos. 4 and 5 spots TBA
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Fall Preview
2010-11 recap: Georgia’s season may have derailed before the Bulldogs even put their first tee in the ground last fall. Coach Kelley Hester had tough decisions to make before the season, and it cost her team two scholarship players. Kendall Wright was kicked off the team for breaking team rules, and incoming freshman Sarah Almond also had off-the-course issues that ultimately saw her chances to play for Georgia vanish. Instead, Almond made a last-minute switch to East Carolina (and has since turned pro).
“I felt like we encountered a lot of adversity,” Hester said. “For the most part, we were able to overcome it, but we were atrocious in the postseason (14th at NCAA West Regional).”
One big bright spot was Marta Silva Zamora, who was named Player of the Year by Golfweek and the National Golf Coaches Association. The junior qualified for the NCAA Championship as an individual and finished fourth. Her overall head-to-head record last year was 938-48-12.
Player to watch: Emilie Burger. Said Hester: “She wasn’t quite 100 percent last year, but is ready to have a breakout year. She’s a long hitter, and when her putting is on (she) has the ability to go low.”
2011-12 preview: For years, Georgia has been known as a perennial power in women’s college golf, but that hasn’t been the case the past couple of seasons. The Bulldogs have struggled in the postseason and failed to reach the NCAA finals in back-to back-years. “These kids are hungry,” Hester said. “This team is ready to get Georgia back to being a household name as a top team in our game.”
Georgia will undoubtedly be led by Silva Zamora. Last season, she finished in the top 10 in all but two events, including at Kinderlou Forest, where she had to withdraw with an illness.
“Marta has surprised even herself in college,” Hester said. “She has played a lot this summer, and I hope she comes back to school refreshed and ready to go.”
The biggest question with Georgia will be who will help Silva Zamora and Emilie Burger in the lineup? Burger is a solid No. 2 player, finishing 43rd in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last year, but after that it’s worrisome. Hester may have to rely on a pair of incoming freshmen to contribute immediately. Rocio Sanchez Lobato is a standout junior player from Spain that was promoted to the Spanish women’s national team this summer. Collins Bradshaw is enrolling in school a year early and hoping to make an instant impact.
Bottom line: Georgia has an outstanding 1-2 punch with Silva Zamora and Burger. However, those two can only do so much. Last season, the Bulldogs failed to win a tournament, and they once again will have one of the nation’s toughest schedules. With the elite teams Georgia faces on a regular basis, it’s tough to say the Bulldogs will post a team victory this year, either. By themselves, Silva Zamora and Burger make Georgia a top-20 team and could be enough for a return trip to nationals, but it’s unlikely the ’Dawgs do much more unless those players in the Nos. 3-5 slots play better than expected.