The class of 2011 was expected to make an immediate impact on college golf this year, and so far these players haven’t disappointed. Golfweek’s top freshman to watch, Erynne Lee, began the year in the No. 1 position for defending national champion UCLA, and Pepperdine’s Grace Na (technically a sophomore after graduating high school early to join the Wave roster in January) tied the NCAA scoring record earlier this week. But what about the unknowns? Here are four players who began their freshman season under the radar, but can no longer be called unknowns:
• Cassy Isagawa, Oregon
Golfweek ranking: 14
Isagawa hails from Wailuku, Hawaii, but quickly made a name for herself in the lower 48 at the Ducks’ season opener, the Golfweek Conference Challenge. Isagawa was the low scorer for Oregon (T-11) as the team bobbed in and out of the lead, eventually finishing T-5. Isagawa sandwiched a 1-under 71 with rounds of 5-over 77 that head coach Ria Scott explained were just “not characteristic of her if you know who she is and what she’s like.”
In Oregon’s following two starts, Isagawa was runner-up at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational at the menacing Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., and third in a loaded Stanford Invitational field.
So who, exactly, is Isagawa? A player who keeps the game simple, but can underestimate her ability (especially length off the tee and putting). You’ll know her by the yellow golf ball. Perhaps it’s even unfair to call Isagawa a complete unknown after her appearance on the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup team and a playoff win at the 2010 Junior PGA Championship.
“Cassy has this interesting combination of quiet confidence, and unawareness of how talented she really is,” Scott said. “People around her see it. When her belief catches up to her true ability, and when she learns to adjust a little more on the golf course, her results could be scary.”
• Soo Bin Kim, Washington
Golfweek ranking: 26
Kim’s biggest claim to fame might be her two-shot win at the Stanford Intercollegiate, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. Kim set a Washington scoring record for lowest 54-hole total with her 13-under 200 at that event, and it was only her third tournament with the Huskies. To back it up, Kim finished sixth at the Pac-12/SEC Championship the next week. She closed with a 68 to earn her third top-10 finish for the fall, and but for two bad holes, things could have been very different, as head coach Mary Lou Mulflur noted.
“If she doesn’t have a triple bogey on Friday and one on Saturday, she wins the dang tournament,” Mulflur said. “But, that’s the way it goes sometimes. She still played outstanding and continues to be very impressive.”
• Madeline Sagstrom, LSU
Golfweek ranking: 40
You can thank sophomore Austin Ernst for setting the bar high for LSU freshmen, and you can be sure that a player who makes it onto head coach Karen Bahnsen’s roster truly has earned it. NCAA champ Ernst, afterall, sat out the first two tournaments last season as she proved she had the game to compete on a squad that logged seven top-3 finishes last year.
LSU already has two wins this season, and Sagstrom has been a solid contributor in those events, starting in all four fall tournaments with the Tigers and twice finishing in the top 20 (including a T-5 at the Tar Heel Invitational). With a stroke average of 73, Sagstrom falls in third place on the LSU roster, behind Ernst and Tessa Teachman.
• Victoria Trapani, Auburn
Golfweek ranking: 55
Auburn players Carlie Yadloczky and Marta Sanz have taken home individual titles at two of the most stacked tournaments of the fall: Yadloczky at the “Mo”Morial and Sanz at the Tar Heel Invitational. In that time, Auburn also has risen to No. 3 in Golfweek’s rankings with three top-3 finishes as a team.
Needless to say, the supporting cast on this roster is strong. Trapani opened the season with a T-6 at the “Mo”Morial after closing with a final-round 68. Trapani added a T-21 in a 95-player field at the Tar Heel.
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What: Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invite
When: Oct. 31-Nov. 2
Where: University of Texas (Austin) Golf Club
Why it’s important: A good mix of teams at this event. With two wins on the season, Oklahoma State could put a great topper on its fall with a win here. Keep an eye on top-20 teams Arizona, Texas and Florida, as well as Tulsa and Arkansas, teams yet to realize their full potential this season.
And another: There’s no question defending champion UCLA has a deep roster this season – and there’s been no shortage of discussion on the topic. But maybe it’s time to give UC Davis a hard look from top to bottom, too. The Aggies won their second title in five starts this fall at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. Sophomore Jessica Chulya led UC Davis to that win, becoming the fifth Aggie to finish as the low player on the team this season.
UC Davis shot 5-over 869 to finish 15 shots ahead of runner-up San Diego State. It was the 12th win in UC Davis’ eight-year history as a Division I team, and it was the sixth time the Aggies have won by 15 or more shots.
UC Davis is ranked No. 24 by Golfweek after also winning the Ptarmigan Ram Fall Classic to start the season.
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Five questions with Pepperdine sophomore Grace Na, who shot a first-round 9-under 63 at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown that tied the NCAA 18-hole scoring record, then went on to win the event:
1.) How do you forget a first-round 63 and come out on top after two more rounds?
Honestly, after a good round, I’m pretty good at forgetting about it and moving on to another day. A couple people thought I couldn’t back it up. I didn’t know the whole process of shooting 63 and not being able to back it up. Because I didn’t know the whole process, I think it helped me to stay focused. Having a coach like Laurie Gibbs, she really helped me to stay focused, in the zone and not focus on my score. She’s trying to prepare me to be the best I can be.
2.) With high winds in the final round, how much more difficult did the course play?
Coach said it was going to be pretty windy the final round and pretty cold. The whole team was like, there’s no way. When we got out, we were wearing rain gear, hand warmers; it was really different. The wind was probably 15-40 mph. . . . The course was completely different because the wind was coming from the north this time, so it was opposite from the first two days. I knew with those tough finishes, a lot of girls were going to struggle mentally but I thought just staying strong and grinding it out would give me the advantage at the end.
3.) You hit every fairway and every green during the first round. Have you ever done that before?
I forget about the fairways, but I have hit 18 greens during the U.S. Am three years ago with my dad on the bag. This is my second time hitting all 18 greens. I’ve never hit 12 of them inside 15 feet, though – that was my best stat so far.
4.) You graduated early last year to join the Pepperdine roster in January, so you’re still young but already a leader for the team. How does that feel?
I think I made a good decision. I knew some people thought I was starting a little too early, it would be hard adjusting to college. I am still a freshman because this is only my second semester. I definitely didn’t think I would win two tournaments by this point in time, but my coach and my whole team just helped me develop and mature a lot on and off the golf course. I didn’t win too many junior events. I won once in 2006 or something. I forgot the feeling of winning, and in college I already have two events on my record, and hopefully I have many ahead of me.
5.) Where do your home courses and practice facilities at Pepperdine rate on your list of favorite courses?
One of my favorite courses would have to be El Caballero in Tarzana, Calif. It’s one of the best practice facilities we have. It’s in great shape, greens are fast. . . . I have tons of favorite courses. Bandon Dunes is one of them.