We’re halfway through the college season, and while plenty of important tournaments remain, several players have put themselves in front of the race for the Haskins Award, which honors college golf’s top player. Here’s a look at the favorites. Players are listed in order of their position in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Those outside the top 10 need not despair. A good start to the spring easily can vault a player into the Haskins Award conversation. Let’s look at the leading contenders after the fall season, though:
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1. Cheng-Tsung Pan, Washington sophomore
Hometown: Bradenton, Fla.
Fall finishes: Won, Husky Invitational; T-2, Ping-Golfweek Preview; T-3, Pac-12 Preview; T-2, U.S. Collegiate
The skinny: Pan’s consistency has to be commended. He finished no worse than third in his four starts, and has a 271-4-10 head-to-head record. He’s 20-2-4 against the top 25 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He also was runner-up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, coming up one stroke short of a berth in the 2013 Masters.
Coach’s comment: “Pan made a big commitment to his putting last spring, and it is paying off,” said Washington head coach Matt Thurmond. “He hasn’t hit the ball his best this fall, but his putting and scoring ability have carried him through. His concentration and mental game are so strong that he’s been able to be in the hunt every week. In his last six events, he hasn’t finished worse than third (U.S. Amateur stroke play, four college events and the Asia-Pacific Amateur).”
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2. Michael Kim, Cal sophomore
Hometown: Del Mar, Calif.
Fall finishes: T-2, Gopher Invitational; T-10, Ping/Golfweek Preview; T-6, Pac-12 Preview; T-5, Alister Mackenzie Invitational; won, Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
The skinny: Kim, who stands 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs only 135 pounds, overcomes a lack of distance with impressive accuracy. He finished in the top 10 in every start this fall, and his victory at a long, tough Isleworth track showed that his game can succeed anywhere.
Coach’s comment: “He is such a complete player, from his great swing to his solid short game and, of course, his tremendous putting,” said Cal head coach Steve Desimone. “There just aren’t any real weaknesses. A year ago, Michael was a bit short with most of his clubs, but he’s added distance. He’s not going to wow anybody with his length, but it’s more than adequate now. His victory at Isleworth is testament to that. The last two key components are his ability to manage both his game and his temperament. He makes very good decisions on the golf course, and he never lets a bad shot carry over to the next one. He knows how to play the game and, given his age, should only get better.”
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3. Brandon Stone, Texas freshman
Hometown: Pretoria, South Africa
Fall finishes: Won, Carpet Capital Collegiate; T-16, Ping-Golfweek Preview; T-21, Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
The skinny: The past two Haskins Award winners – UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay and Alabama’s Justin Thomas – were freshmen. Thomas started his award-winning campaign with a victory at Carpet Capital, just as Stone did this year. Stone is the highest-rated freshman in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He arrived at Texas as South Africa’s top amateur.
Coach’s comment: “Brandon Stone is an experienced young golfer whose father is a professional golfer,” said Texas head coach John Fields. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He is seriously competitive, with positive physical abilities.”
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4. Justin Thomas, Alabama sophomore
Hometown: Goshen, Ky.
Fall finishes: 10th, Carpet Capital Collegiate; T-26, Ping-Golfweek Preview; won, Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate; T-2, Isleworth Collegiate Invitational; T-12, Western Refining All-America Golf Classic.
The skinny: Thomas is trying to become the first player to win consecutive Haskins Awards since Phil Mickelson won three in a row from 1990 to ’92. That’s impressive company. Thomas is off to another strong start this year, having finished in the top 10 in three of five starts this fall.
Coach’s comment: “Justin, like all great players, has a great passion for golf,” said Alabama head coach Jay Seawell. “He works extremely hard at getting his game better. He has big dreams and is driven to be great. He really loves team golf and is a great leader for our team. His best attribute is how comfortable he is in uncomfortable situations. He loves the back-nine pressure.”
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5. Jordan Spieth, Texas sophomore
Fall finishes: T-2, Carpet Capital Collegiate; T-35, Ping-Golfweek Preview; 5th, Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
The skinny: Spieth’s season got off to a solid start. The big question is how long his college career will last. It’s all but guaranteed he will turn pro before the spring season begins, thus taking himself out of the player-of-the-year race.
Coach’s comment: “First-class as a player, is on the radar, a pleasure to coach,” said Texas head coach John Fields.
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6. Patrick Rodgers, Stanford sophomore
Hometown: Avon, Ind.
Fall finishes: Won, Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini; T-22, Pac-12 Preview; won, U.S. Collegiate; T-9, Gifford Collegiate; T-12, Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic
The skinny: Rodgers may be sixth in the Golfweek rankings, but he’s the only player in the top 10 with multiple victories, and they came at two of college golf’s biggest events: Olympia Fields and the U.S. Collegiate. Rodgers’ two victories may give him a slight edge over Pan in some people’s eyes. Others will reward Pan for his consistency.
Coach’s comment: “Patrick’s two wins this fall were impressive in strong fields,” said Stanford head coach Conrad Ray. “His game continues to evolve and improve. When Patrick gets in the right spot mentally, stays patient, and doesn’t press too much, he is very successful. I think he is geared up for an impressive run in 2013.”
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7. Talor Gooch, Oklahoma State junior
Hometown: Midwest City, Okla.
Fall finishes: T-2, U.S. Collegiate; T-6, Royal Oaks Intercollegiate
The skinny: Gooch is off to a good start, but he also has played only two events. He has work to do to keep his name in the player-of-the-year conversation, but he also has the ability to keep himself there.
Coach’s comment: “Talor has done a good job of improving almost every facet of his game, particularly his short game and his fitness,” said Oklahoma State head coach Mike McGraw. “He has made a real commitment to both of those areas. He has continued to set higher goals for himself and has built more confidence along the way.”
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8. Julien Brun, TCU sophomore
Hometown: Antibes, France
Fall finishes: Won, Carmel Cup; T-21, Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
The skinny: Brun has played only two events, and his Carmel Cup victory came in a 24-player field, so he hasn’t built much of a resume yet this season. Brun already has established himself as one of college golf’s top players, though. He was a first-team All-American as a freshman after winning three times and finishing second at the NCAA Championship. He also won on the Challenge Tour this fall.
Coach’s comment: “Julien was the best player I’ve ever had already as a freshman, and I think he’s only continued to get better this season,” said TCU head coach Bill Montigel. “In addition to winning our first tournament this fall, he also had two outstanding performances in Europe. That victory he had on the Challenge Tour was probably the most impressive one he’s had so far because, not only was he protecting a one-shot lead down the stretch, he was playing against pros and in front of his home crowd. He has great commitment to improving and a great work ethic. If he makes a bogey or a double, he just takes his club, puts it in his bag and walks to the tee box. He doesn’t really try any wild shots out there. He just gets out of trouble. He is a tremendous kid.”
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9. Trevor Simsby, Washington junior
Hometown: Carlsbad, Calif.
Fall finishes: T-2, Kikkor Golf Husky Invitational; T-26, Ping-Golfweek Preview; won, Pac-12 Preview; T-5 U.S. Collegiate Championship
The skinny: No one would’ve been surprised to see two Washington players in the top 10 after the fall season, but they would’ve expected Chris Williams to join Cheng-Tsung Pan near the top of the rankings. Instead, Simsby has taken a large leap forward with his career. The Pac-12 is the nation’s strongest golf conference, and Simsby was able to win its preview tournament, which featured all 12 teams. He has finished in the top 5 in three of four fall starts.
Coach’s comment: “Trevor has awesome golf skills, and he has broken through some comfort zones this fall,” said Washington head coach Matt Thurmond. “He’s handling success and pressure better than ever, and his confidence increases with every round. He is a really tough player, and now he is developing the self-belief to go with his skills and toughness.”
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10. Scott Fernandez, Iowa State sophomore
Hometown: Granada, Spain
Fall finishes: T-2, Northern Intercollegiate; T-2, VCU Shootout; T-3, Bridgestone Collegiate
The skinny: Fernandez’s consistency has been impressive, but his only hope of winning the Haskins Award is if he starts collecting wins. His schedule was ranked 440th in the nation. Everyone else in the top 10 played a top-100 schedule in the fall.
Coach’s comment: “Scott is an explosive player,” said Iowa State head coach Andrew Tank. “He hits it long and makes a lot of birdies. He’s worked hard to improve his wedge game and has become a more mature player. I expect him to do great things this spring.”
* – Golfweek/Sagarin rankings as of Nov. 9