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. 14 on the board with the Auburn men and Wake Forest women.
2010-11 final ranking: 14
Coach: Nick Clinard (third year)
Top returnees: Blayne Barber, Niclas Carlsson, Michael Hebert
Top newcomers: Freshman Michael Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., freshman Jake Mondy of Blacksburg, Va.
Projected starting 5: Blayne Barber (Jr.), Niclas Carlsson (So.), Michael Hebert (Jr.), Will McCurdy (Sr.), Dominic Bozzelli (Jr.) or Michael Johnson (Fr.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Olympia Fields
2010-11 recap: Last year’s regular-season accomplishments all but went to waste for Auburn in six postseason holes. Nick Clinard’s team won three tournaments (Jerry Pate, Schenkel E-Z-Go, Bluegrass Invitational) and posted only one finish outside the top 5 during the regular season to play their way into the top 10 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “We had a great year,” Clinard said. “It was the team’s lowest scoring average in school history, but we came up short in the big picture.”
Auburn was in second place with six holes to play at the NCAA Colorado Regional, but the Tigers fell apart down the stretch and suffered a stunning drop all the way to eighth place, ending their season.
Player to watch: Michael Hebert. Said Clinard: “He put a lot of work in this summer and physically is very gifted. If he believes in himself, he can be one of the best players in the country. He’s a great ballstriker who drives the ball very straight. I think if he can make one or two more putts a round, then the sky is the limit.”
2011-12 preview: The Tigers return everyone from a lineup that won three titles a year ago. Not only did Auburn notch three victories, but it was a runner-up at four other events. “We have a great schedule once again, with everyone back,” Clinard said. “Expectations are high, and I think we have a good nucleus and plenty of depth.”
Leading the way for Auburn will be junior Blayne Barber, who picked up a victory last year at the Bridgestone Collegiate and earned a spot on this fall’s U.S. Walker Cup team. Barber ended last season, his first at Auburn after transferring from Central Florida, at No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The Tigers boast two other top-75 players in sophomore Niclas Carlsson and junior Michael Hebert. With those three atop the lineup, Auburn should be in great shape at every tournament.
The fifth spot in the lineup could come down between rarely used Dominic Bozzelli and incoming freshman Michael Johnson. “Dominic has really progressed this summer, and I hope he can break out to be a big contributor for us,” Clinard said. “Michael, though, has all the tools and is physically very gifted.” Clinard, though, said he thinks Johnson needs to put on a little weight to play at his best at the college level.
Bottom line: The battle for the Southeastern Conference Championship may come down to in-state rivals Auburn and Alabama. And if you are competing for the SEC men’s crown, it’s safe to assume you’re contending for a national title as well. Auburn is deep at Nos. 1-5, but the Tigers cannot afford to have another regionals meltdown. Barber should win a couple of times, be in the discussion for Player of the Year and lead Auburn to the NCAA Championship’s final eight next June at Riviera.
WAKE FOREST WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 14
Coach: Diane Dailey (24th year)
Top returnees: Cheyenne Woods, Olafia Kristinsdottir
Top newcomers: Freshman Marissa Dodd of Allen, Texas, freshman Allison Emrey of Charlotte, N.C., freshman Emily Wright of Mason, Ohio, freshman Bailey Allman of Winston Salem, N.C., junior Greta Lange (transfer from Shorter University)
Projected starting 5: Cheyenne Woods (Sr.), Marissa Dodd (Fr.), Olafia Kristinsdottir (So.), Nos. 4 and 5 spots TBA
Key losses: Natalie Sheary, Michelle Shin
Key fall tournament: Lady Tar Heel Invitational
2010-11 recap: Wake Forest served as a prime example that even three top players is not necessarily enough to win in women’s college golf. Last season, the Demon Deacons had three top-30 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: Natalie Sheary (23), Cheyenne Woods (29) and Michelle Shin (30). Unfortunately, the trio had little to no support from the back of the lineup. “We had three really good players and really struggled in the four (and) five spots,” coach Diane Dailey said. “We missed Stephanie Kim when she didn’t come back.”
Projected to be the team’s No. 4 player, Kim opted to leave school early and turn pro. With the gap in the line up, Wake struggled in the postseason. The Deacons barely escaped out of the NCAA East Regional with an eighth-place finish, and went on to finish 14th at the NCAA Championship.
Player to watch: Marissa Dodd. Said Dailey of the freshman from Texas: “She finished second at the (Women’s Amateur Public Links) and has had a real good summer. She has a good swing, and every part of her game is pretty strong. A fierce competitor who wants to win.”
2011-12 preview: Wake may have missed the boat when it comes to being a national-title contender. For the past three seasons, Wake frequently was mentioned as a team on the rise, but now the cupboard is quite bare. The team returns only two starters, and senior Cheyenne Woods will only be able to do so much. Woods will be the No. 1 player, but the question is: Who will help her?
The only other returning starter is sophomore Olafia Kristinsdottir, who earlier this summer won the Icelandic Amateur. She played in all 11 events for her team last year, but posted only one top-30 finish. “I think playing in every tournament last year was real beneficial for her,” Dailey said. “After seeing what she’s done this summer, I’m hoping her game is ready to go to a whole new level.”
With five newcomers, it appears that Wake is in for a rebuilding year. Other than Woods, Wake’s four other starters most likely will be underclassmen and incoming freshmen. “I’m looking forward to having basically a brand-new team,” Dailey said. “Anything can happen, and several players will have the chance to step up.”
Bottom line: Cheyenne Woods could be a Player of the Year candidate, but she may be a lone bright spot for the Deacons. With all the turnover, it’s hard to see Wake being a top-20 team this season. Dailey has done a nice job bringing in a solid recruiting class, but it will take time for the freshmen to develop at the college level. Expect Wake to go through some growing pains but still reach NCAA regionals.