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. 3 on the board with the UCLA men and Alabama women.
2010-11 final ranking: 3
Coach: Derek Freeman (Fifth year)
Top returnees: Patrick Cantlay, Pontus Widegren
Top newcomers: Freshmen Matt Pinizzotto of Salinas, Calif., Jay Hwang of San Diego, Preston Valder of Orange County, Calif.
Projected starting 5: Patrick Cantlay (So.), Alex Shi Yup Kim (Sr.), Anton Arboleda (So.), Pontus Widegren (Jr.) fifth spot TBD
Key losses: Gregor Main
Key fall tournament: U.S. Collegiate
2010-11 recap: The Bruins year was headlined by the break out of freshman Patrick Cantlay, who won the Golfweek Player of the Year, Jack Nicklaus Award and Pac-10 Golfer of the Year. Cantlay’s stellar play helped the Bruins stay near the top of the rankings, including stops at No. 1. UCLA won four times during the year and claimed the No. 1 spot in match play at last year’s NCAA finals.
“It was a great year,” Freeman said. “We played solid all year, but it was disappointing when our play turned from stroke play to match play.”
After finishing third at the Pac-10 Championship, the Bruins won the NCAA West Regional. The Bruins were upset by the eighth-seed Duke in the opening round of the match play at the NCAAs.
Player to watch: Anton Arboleda. Said Freeman: “He was so close to being in and out of our lineup last year, that I think that he will have a breakout year this year. A solid player that hits it straight and doesn’t get in to trouble. A really good short game, and needs to believe he belongs at this level.”
2011-2012 preview: With all the attention that Cantlay received last year, other Bruins have gone unnoticed. Widegren had a great sophomore year that started with a victory at the Golfweek/Ping Preview. Widegren (ranked 29th) provided the Bruins with a great 1-2 punch in the lineup.
With Gregor Main leaving early to turn pro, there is a major hole to fill. One player expected to play a bigger role this year will be junior Pedro Figueiredo, who played eight events last year. He never could solidify himself as a solid contributor in the lineup, though. “That kid has all the talent in the world,” Freeman said. “He was hurt in the spring with a sore wrist and came back, and tried to play but wasn’t back until March.”
Cantlay and Widegren only can do so much for a team that is talented, but waiting for other players to step up. “(The) guys know we are a good team if (they) take care of things individually,” Freeman said. One sleeper to watch may be Jay Hwang, who many forget lost to two-time U.S. Junior champion Jordan Spieth in the finals of the 2009 championship. If Hwang can show his game is ready, then he just may find himself being an instant contributor.
Bottom line: There is no doubt UCLA has one of the best 1-2 players in the country with Cantlay and Widegren. It’s unclear if the Bruins have enough of a supporting cast. Freeman could go through several lineup changes until he gets a starting five that is ready week in and week out. The talent and depth are there. Will the winning combination be there come late May?
2010-11 final ranking: 3
Coach: Mic Potter (seventh year)
Top returnees: Stephanie Meadow, Jennifer Kirby, Brooke Pancake
Top newcomers: Junior Courtney McKim; freshman Johanna Tillstrom of Taby, Sweden; freshman Daniela Lendl of Vero Beach, Fla., freshman Taylor Manning of Brentwood, Tenn.
Projected starting 5: Stephanie Meadow (So.), Jennifer Kirby (Jr.), Brooke Pancake (Sr.), Hannah Collier (So.), No. 5 spot TBA
Key losses: Camilla Lennarth, Courtney Harter
Key fall tournament: The Fall Preview
2010-11 recap: At one point last year, Alabama worked its way to the No. 1 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The team never fell below third the rest of the year. During the regular season ’Bama won five times, starting with a win at the Fall Preview. Victories followed at the Tar Heel Invitational, Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic and the NCAA East Regional.
Alabama arrived at nationals as heavy favorites. The Crimson Tide won on the golf course in the fall at the Preview, and were coming off a victory at regionals. However, ’Bama played poorly early and never recovered and tied for eighth. “We had a great year,” Potter said. “The finals were a disappointment, but we need to learn to play with those expectations.”
Player to watch: Jennifer Kirby. Said Potter: “She is capable of being a dominating player. She’s powerful, long and her freshmen year (she) won SEC Freshman of the Year. When she puts the ball close to the pin she can make a lot of putts.”
2011-2012 preview: Alabama enters the year once again as a national contender. The team boasts two Player- of-the-Year candidates in Meadow and Pancake, who finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Kirby, a U.S. Women’s Amateur semfinalist and SEC Freshman of the Year in 2010, adds team strength in the No. 3 slot. “We have as good a nucleus as anyone in the top three,” Potter said. “We have depth and talent, but it all comes down to how we handle our expectations.”
Hannah Collier likely will start out as the team’s No. 4. The No. 5 spot is up for grabs between junior Courtney McKim, who transferred from Oklahoma State, and freshman Daniela Lendl. McKim played sparingly at Oklahoma State, but Potter believes she can have a big role. “McKim was on a team that finished eighth at nationals,” Potter said. “Any team would love to have experience and players that have been in big situations before.” As for Lendl, Potter hopes she can adjust to the college life quickly.
Alabama has proved they can win tournaments, but haven’t closed the deal at the NCAA finals. In the last four years, the Crimson Tide have only one top-5 finish (3rd at Wilmington in 2009-10).
Bottom line: Alabama has shown it can play great during the regular season, but it remains a mystery why the team heads south at the finals. Once again, ’Bama enters the year highly favored. If the deep Crimson Tide doesn’t compete for a national championship, or finish in the top five, it might be the biggest disappointment of the year.