The top five stories from college golf this week.
1. Top team? What the Texas men did in the fall season – winning four consecutive events by an average of nearly 17 shots – left many believing this team to be the clear favorite in college golf. And while that still might be the case, the Longhorns have made things interesting after their first two starts of the spring season. But don’t be too quick to count out John Fields’ squad.
In Puerto Rico, the Longhorns were without Jordan Spieth, who was playing in the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open. And then this past week at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, with Spieth back in the lineup, Texas placed sixth on a very demanding Southern Highlands layout against the deepest regular-season field to this point.
The gap now has closed, and we still could see a race to No. 1 in the rankings this spring.
2. Player of the Year race: It’s likely that this race could come down to the NCAA Championship this year. Jordan Spieth is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and Golfstat’s head-to-head standings, but there are a number of players on his heels. That includes Texas teammate Dylan Frittelli. At this point in the season, you might be able to make a case for as many as a half-dozen more players.
Being the top player in the men’s game comes with a few more perks these days.
Recently, Haskins Award officials announced that the winner of their player-of-the-year award, which is voted on by Division I golfers, coaches, sports information directors and golf media, will be given a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic. Also, the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award, given by the Golf Coaches Association of America, gets a spot in The Memorial.
3. The magic number is …: It’s that time of year again, when bubble teams start paying closer attention to the “magic number” (the ranking of the last team to get into the NCAA postseason). Sure the NCAA Championship committee could spend hours and debating and comparing teams, but we all know when it’s said and done, it starts with the rankings and does not go much further than that when deciding those last few spots.
In the men’s game, we have seen the bubble number stay near 70. It’s likely to stay right there or even better if the “.500 rule,” which requires teams to compile at least a break-even record in head-to-head competition, does not claim many teams.
On the women’s side, that number has changed significantly in the past couple of years as the NCAA has allowed nine more teams into regional play. Expect that number to be in the low 60s again.
4. UCLA’s dominance: The UCLA women have built an impressive record this year. The Bruins have won four times and logged three runner-up finishes on their way to compiling a 102-3 won-loss head-to-head record. Those numbers alone are dominating, but when you also add that three UCLA players rank inside the top 10 and all six are within the top 90, that pretty much seals the deal.
However, something still has me raising an eyebrow when looking at this team. In five of UCLA’s seven events, the Bruins have played a different lineup. Some would say that shows depth, and it’s hard to argue that point. This team has been able to respond to all sorts of circumstances – even losing Player of the Year candidate Stephanie Kono to the LPGA tour during winter break. Most recently, UCLA placed second with just four players at the Bruin/Wave after two players were suspended for violating team rules.
Hard not to believe UCLA will be the team to win it all later this spring at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.
5. My top 8: There’s a big hurdle to clear these days when it comes to winning a national championship in men’s golf. Obviously getting out of regionals has become a more challenging task than it used to be, with just five teams advancing in each of the six regionals. But once a team gets to the NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., it’s all about getting into the top 8 – and thus onto the match-play bracket – after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying.
If the national championship were played tomorrow, I would bank on these eight teams advancing to match play:
Texas. Too good not to get into top eight, right?
Alabama. Talent, talent, talent!
Auburn. Should be able to find a top-8 spot.
California. Showed team strength at Southern Highlands.
UCLA. Patrick Cantlay will heat up, right?
Washington. Should be peaking about that time.
Arkansas. All the Hogs do is win, win, win!
Georgia Tech. I still think this team can win it all in match play.