Twelve NCAA Division I schools. Two highly acclaimed courses. And three champions? That’s what will unfold Sept. 11-13 at Golfweek’s Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the unofficial kickoff to the 2011-12 college season.
Here’s how it works: Men’s and women’s teams from 12 NCAA Division I schools will play 54 holes on separate courses. After the completion of the final round, a men’s and women’s team champion will be crowned. But so, too, will the Program Challenge winner – the school (both men’s and women’s teams) that has the lowest cumulative score.
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The men play at par-72, 7,126-yard True Blue Golf Course:
2010-11 rank in Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: 40
The Pirates return two standouts from a year ago – seniors Harold Varner and David Watkins, who led the team in each event it played in 2010-11 and posted 10 top-20 finishes. Varner, who finished last year No. 28 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, enters his final season in the best form after a spectacular summer during which he became the first player to win the North Carolina Amateur and North Carolina Amateur Match Play in the same year. Both players were first-team Conference USA selections, leading the Pirates to two victories (ODU/OBX Collegiate and River Landing Intercollegiate). That still wasn’t enough to push East Carolina into the NCAA Championship for the first time, however, as the Pirates placed ninth at the NCAA Regional. This season, they welcome freshman Al Dickens, winner of the 2011 Palmetto High School Championship.
2010-11 rank: 54
The reigning Colonial Athletic Association champions have made the NCAAs each of the past two seasons, and this year return the nucleus of that squad save Josh Brock, who graduated in the spring. Expected to headline the Seahawks are Stefan Brewer, who redshirted last season; Payne McLeod, the CAA Rookie of the Year in 2011; and junior Thomas Bass, who last season had five top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Seahawk Invitational. They also may count on freshman Dylan Harris, who is coming off a win at the Webb Simpson Junior Championship this summer. Matt Clark will begin his fourth season at the helm of the Seahawks program after a health scare last fall.
2010-11 rank: 77
The Bears have a lot of international flavor – so much, in fact, that only one player, Austen Moix, is from the U.S. Spain, Canada, Wales, Chile and England all are represented on the seven-man roster, and Central Arkansas will be looking to improve upon last year’s five-win season. The Bears’ leading starter from a year ago, Antonio Costa, had a 73.9 average in 22 rounds last season, his best finish (T-4) coming at the Kansas State Jim Colbert Intercollegiate.
2010-11 rank: 89
The Gamecocks have only two seniors – Englishman Tom Robson and Argentine Alfonso Otoya – on a team that won three times last season, including the Ohio Valley Championship, their third conference title. Junior Andres Schonbaum and Matthew Wallace, the 2011 OVC Freshman of the Year, earned medalist honors at the conference championship.
2010-11 rank: 90
The Camels won once and had four top-5 finishes last season, but will have to make up for the departure of Matt Moot, who graduated in the spring. In his absence, Campbell will rely heavily on senior Vaita Guillaume, who finished out of the top 20 only twice last season. He led the Camels in six events in 2010-11. After Guillaume, however, they will have to identify new talent. Their next leading returner, senior Mitch Gray, had a scoring average nearly two strokes higher than Guillaume.
2010-11 rank: 112
What better way to start the Bobcats’ final season in the Southland Conference than with a solid start to the year? Before it moves to the Western Athletic Conference in 2012, Texas State hopes to improve upon its one-win season behind the play of Welshman Alastair Jones, the Bobcats’ best player from a year ago with five top-10 finishes.
2010-11 rank: 122
The Roos have only one senior on the team – Will Robson, who had one top 10 and four top 20s last season. Last year, UMKC only twice finished outside the top 10 and bookended its season with wins at the season-opening Fairway Club Invitational and Summit League Championship. Leading the Roos is junior Korbin Keuhn, who last year posted a team-high seven top 10s and 14 sub-par rounds. Swede Viktor Mikaelsson also had three top 10s a year ago.
2010-11 rank: 149
The Dukes had an up-and-down season in 2010-11, their only win coming at the C&F Bank Intercollegiate in March. No player epitomized that unsteadiness more than junior Ryan Vance, who will be an integral part of the Dukes’ lineup. Last year, he closed the season with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including a win at the C&F Bank, but struggled in the fall.
2010-11 rank: 164
There is a lot of homegrown talent on the Trojan roster, as only one player hails from outside Alabama. How that will translate to the course, however, remains to be seen. The Trojans will look to replace four seniors with four local products – freshmen Jake Tucker, Will Clowdus, Tolver Dozier and Phillip Brennan.
2010-11 rank: 196
Chris Malloy’s second year at the helm of the Bulls program figures to be more fruitful after losing only one senior to graduation, Robby Carl. After tying the program’s best finish at the Big East Championship (T-4), USF will have to rely on Devin Hernandez and Richard Kittelstad, and the emergence of freshman Trey Valentine, if the Bulls want to make the postseason. USF’s best finish a year ago was a runner-up at The Match Play; otherwise, the Bulls closed the season with four consecutive finishes outside the top 10 before the conference championship.
2010-11 rank: 197
Last year, then-freshmen Kyle Beversdorf and Michael Wetrich led the Lions, prompting coach John Bermel to say in June: “I am looking forward to what may come out of these two the next three years.” Beversdorf was the team’s top player, with a stroke average of 74.67 in 30 rounds.
2010-11 rank: 248
The Eagles finished a disappointing seventh at the Big East Championship, but return this season with an experienced squad led by seniors John Nurczynski, Kevin Melnick and Kyle McCartan.
– Ryan Lavner
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The women play at par-70, 6,121-yard Caledonia Golf and Fish Club:
2010-11 rank in Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: 50
The Pirates earned a top-50 spot in Golfweek’s rankings last season courtesy of three regular-season victories. It was an impressive rebound after they graduated Abby Bools in the spring of 2010, who was a three-time All-Conferece USA selection and one of the most successful golfers in the history of the ECU program. East Carolina should lean on sophomore Fanny Wolte again this season, who won twice in her freshman campaign and maintained a 74.61 stroke average.
2010-11 rank: 72
Meet the Puisite sisters – junior Krista and sophomore Mara, both of Latvia. The pair represented their home country in the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship, and Krista recently won the Latvian Amateur Open (Mara finished third). Texas State had two wins last season, and has a deep roster again this year.
2010-11 rank: 84
All-conference players Sarah Bejgrowicz and Michelle Koh return to lead the Camels, who were runner-up at the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship after a final-round Stetson rally. Campbell isn’t far from home in Myrtle Beach, and seems to play well in the Palmetto State. The Camels recorded another runner-up finish at the Kiawah Classic last year, and were fourth at Barefoot at the Beach.
2010-11 rank: 95
This is a team heavy in transfers, as four experienced college players will join the Bulls’ roster this season. Chief among them is Amy West, who spent the past two years as a key member of the Daytona State team, which has been dominant on the junior college circuit. Senior Kelli Pry and junior Shena Yang, who has played in the NCAA East Regional as an individual the past two years, also offer a lot to this roster. South Florida isn’t a bad bet for the title in Myrtle Beach, and Yang has a shot at individual hardware.
2010-11 rank: 98
Senior Nicole Sakamoto had one of the more successful summers of any player in this field, winning both the Hawaii Women’s Match Play (for the second consecutive year) and Stroke Play Championships. Freshman Shabril Brewer qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
2010-11 rank: 99
Jacksonville State earned three victories during the 2010-11 season. The senior duo of Astrid Parsson and Lucia Fernandez, who tied for second at the season-opening Chris Bannister Gamecock Classic on Sept. 5, will need to step up as leaders for Gamecock success.
2010-11 rank: 111
Senior Sofia Hagsund is a player to watch on this roster after qualifying as an individual for the NCAA East Regional the past two years. After losing only one senior from last year’s squad, the Seahawks will look to improve on a single-win season.
2010-11 rank: 131
Troy’s roster includes senior leader Haley Lawrence, the 2011 Alabama Women’s Stroke Play champion. The Trojans won twice last season, but had four other top-5 finishes.
2010-11 rank: 135
Julia Roth, named to the Southland All-Conference team, is the go-to player on this team. Roth led the Bears with four top 10s in 10 starts. Central Arkansas also adds two new freshmen this year in Danielle Campbell and Malin Senneryd.
2010-11 rank: 161
The Eagles started fast in 2010 with a win at the season-opening Dartmouth Invitational. They would collect four more on the season, but fizzled toward the end of the spring with a 10th-place finish at the Brown Invitational and a ninth at the ACC Championship. Look for incoming freshmen Christina McQuiston and Katia Joo to provide a spark to the program. Both were ranked inside the top 75 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings during their freshman career.
2010-11 rank: 168
Top returners for Northern Iowa include seniors Brittany Atterbury and Blair Bonner. Add in freshman Sonja Przybylski, who won the individual title at the Panthers’ opening event at Creighton, and this team has a very solid base.
2010-11 rank: 183
The ’Roos boast a freshman-heavy lineup this season. With so many new faces on the roster, this would be a perfect time to improve on last year’s winless season. UMKC needs to remember the feeling it had at the end of last spring, when it ended the season with two top 5s.
– Julie Williams