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. 1 on the board with the Oklahoma State men and USC women.
OKLAHOMA STATE MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 1
Coach: Mike McGraw (Seventh year)
Top returnees: Peter Uihlein, Sean Einhaus
Top newcomers: Tanner Kesterson of Dallas; Colton Staggs of Tulsa, Okla.
Projected starting 5: Peter Uihlein (Sr.), Sean Einhaus (Jr.), Talor Gooch (So.), Drew Page (Jr.), Kevin Dougherty (RS-So.)
Key losses: Morgan Hoffman, Kevin Tway
Key fall tournament: Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational
2010-11 recap: For the third consecutive year, Oklahoma State entered the NCAA Championship as the No. 1 team and failed to come out victorious. After losing to Augusta State in the 2010 finals, the Cowboys got a chance at redemption when they faced the Jaguars in last year’s semifinals. Once again, Oklahoma State lost to Augusta, this time on the Cowboys’ home course.
During the regular season, the Cowboys proved to be the best team. Despite playing the fifth-toughest schedule, Oklahoma State won eight times, including at the Regional and Big 12 Championship.
“Obviously I was thrilled with the year we had,” said McGraw, the Golfweek Coach of the Year. “I’ve never had a team win so many times in a season before with such a tough schedule.”
Player to watch: Kevin Dougherty. Said McGraw: “He played last year and showed he can be in the lineup. He grew up as Rickie Fowler’s best friend and came in on the recommendation of Fowler. He knows good golf, seen good golf, and has played a lot of good golf.”
2011-2012 preview: Despite loses each year, the Cowboys simply reload. Key returnee is Uihlein, who ended the year second in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. This year, the Cowboys will have a younger look after Kevin Tway graduated, and Morgan Hoffmann opted to turn professional early.
McGraw is expecting big things though from Einhaus.
“Last year he fell into a hole in the fall,” McGraw said. “In the spring he resurrected himself, and started to resemble the player we saw full of promise with in his junior golf days.” Last year, Einhaus had four top-10 finishes, including a tie for fourth at regionals.
This year, some new names and faces will have the chance to emerge and shine in Stillwater. Ian Davis who redshirted last year is an Oklahoma native who McGraw says is a physically gifted golfer. Incoming recruits Kesterson and Staggs also may find playing time if they excel in qualifiers. “Both the freshmen believe they can play,” McGraw said. “With two first-team All-Americans being gone, maybe they see that as a chance for a spot and to get in to the mix.”
Bottom line: McGraw knows his team is talented, but he also knows he doesn’t have last year’s fire power. With Uihlein leading the way atop the lineup, the question remains who claims the Nos. 2-5 spots. Gooch and Einhaus are talented, but can they step up and replace Hoffmann and Tway? Oklahoma State contends for championships every year, but this season may be a challenge.
2010-11 final ranking: 1
Coach: Andrea Gaston (16th year)
Top returnees: Sophia Popov, Lisa McCloskey
Top newcomers: Freshman Kristen Park of Buena Park, Calif.; Doris Chen of Bradenton, Fla.
Projected starting 5: Sophia Popov (So.), Lisa McCloskey (Sr.), Doris Chen (Fr.), Kristen Park (Fr.), Rachel Morris (So.)
Key losses: Lizette Salas, Cyna Rodriguez (academically ineligible), Pearl Jin
Key fall tournament: The Fall Preview
2010-11 recap: During the regular season, USC never finished outside top three. The Trojans won four events, including the Pac-10 Championship and NCAA West Regional. “It was one of the best years we had as far as results are concerned,” Gaston said. “Unfortunately at nationals, Lisa (McCloskey) got hurt and that was something out of our control.”
At the NCAA Championship, the Trojans played without the fifth-ranked McCloskey, who had a rib injury. USC tied for fifth at Traditions Golf Club, its worst finish of the year.
Player to watch: Sophia Popov. Said Gaston: “Winning the Pac-10s and Stanford’s tournament was a great way to start her career. She will only get better and should be a great player to watch. (She’s) a golfer that embraces the challenge every day.”
2011-2012 preview: One might think that after losing Lizette Salas, the No. 2-ranked player last year, that the Trojans would struggle. Not so fast. This fall, two freshmen – Park and Chen – should step right in to a talented lineup.
“They have been champions in golf and in their own right,” Gaston said. “I think with them coming in we will be just as strong as last year.”
USC might have to hold its breath because Chen is headed to the second stage of LPGA Q-School. Chen said she’s committed to school, but we’ll have to wait and see how she fares in Q-School.
USC will be led by Popov and McCloskey. Both ranked in the top five of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Morris will look to improve on her freshman campaign. Last year, Morris had four top-20 finishes. “Rachel is a girl that really stepped up for us last year and was a key contributor,” Gaston said. “This year, with a year of college under her belt, I expect her to be more relaxed and prepared.”
Senior Inah Park might be the odd player out. With two top freshmen, Park may be left to fight for her roster spot in qualifiers. During her junior year, Park struggled to only two top-20 finishes and ended the year ranked 105th.
Bottom line: Once again, this year should be a battle between crosstown rivals USC and UCLA if the Trojans’ roster stays intact. Last year, both teams battled for the No. 1 ranking each week. Expect much of the same this year. If USC hopes to win another national title, it needs instant contributions from its incoming freshmen. Replacing Salas is no easy task, but the Trojans are still talented enough to be a top-10 team.