The college season has arrived! This year will be sure to have plenty of great storylines, players, and tournaments to talk about on a weekly basis.
Here’s five things I want to watch this year.
1.) Pac-12 Freshman of the Year: Forget the national freshman of the year race, I want to watch the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year race. Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers, USC’s Anthony Paolucci, and Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan all will have crucial roles for their new teams. Also, for either of these teams to have success and compete for a national championship their freshmen may have to be their No. 1 on the team. Rodgers joins a Stanford lineup that is already stacked with Andrew Yun, David Chung, and Cameron Wilson. At USC Paolucci will be put in a lineup that lacks a true No. 1, and Pan heads to Washington where he will create one of the best 1-2 tandems with Chris Williams. How these three teams do in the national picture largely depends on how their freshman play this year.
2.) There will not be another freshman year like Patrick Cantlay’s: No way, no how. What Cantlay did last season was remarkable. As a freshman Cantlay won the NCAA West Regional, USC Invitational, Gifford Championship, tied for first at the Amer-Ari Invitational, and was runner-up at the NCAA Championship. On the year Cantlay had nine top 10’s and won numerous awards; the Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Golfweek Player of the Year, First Team All-American, Pac-10 Golfer and Freshman of the year, as well as the Haskins Award. With so many top players and incoming freshman this year it seems impossible to repeat the success Cantlay had last year. However, that’s why they tee it up and I’m hoping to be proved wrong. Who will be the star of college golf this year, or is it still the same one?
3.) A UCLA repeat: Last season the Lady Bruins had all five of their starters ranked in the top 40 of the Golfweek /Sagarin rankings. As a team the Bruins won five team titles as well as the national championship. This year the Bruins may be even better. It will be interesting to see how coach Carrie Forsyth manages her roster and lineup. It is not unthinkable to think that her team could have seven of the top 50 players in college golf. Brianna Do who played sparingly last year had a great summer which saw her win the Women’s Amateur Public Links. With incoming freshman Eyrnne Lee and Kyle Roig, the Bruins will be the deepest team in college golf with the best talent top to bottom of their line up. With the roster and talent the Bruins have it seems the only team that can beat the defending national champs are themselves.
4.) The up and comers: Last year Liberty, Kennesaw State, and North Texas emerged as teams to watch on a weekly basis. On the women’s side it was Coastal Carolina, Iowa State, and Minnesota. Six programs that have been overlooked and were after thoughts suddenly became top 50 teams people didn’t want to mess with. With the start of a new year brings a new season of opportunity for teams to emerge. There are several teams that can be sleepers so I’ll list my four. On the men’s side: UNC Wilmington and Oregon State; and on the women’s side: Long Beach State and FIU (Florida International).
5.) Coach’s uniting: All summer long I spoke to men’s golf coaches about the upcoming season. However, when asking them about their season they asked me two questions of their own: should there be a 72-hole stroke play national champion and is eight teams enough for match play? Coaches have the power to put certain things in motion at their coaches convention, and it will be interesting to see if these issues are brought to the table.
The debate has gone on for years whether or not the medalist at the NCAA finals should receive an invite to the Masters. With the finals being currently 54 holes, its tough to see that happening. As far as having more than eight teams in the match play is concerned, I say leave the format as is. Eight teams is plenty, and it doesn’t need to be extended. One coach suggested having 32 teams in the finals and just go with match play start to finish. I don’t know if I would go that far, but I’ll be interested to see how far the coaches are willing to go if and when they unite on the issue.