In what might be the most competitive region from top to bottom, the Sugar Grove (Ill.) Regional, which takes place May 15-17 at Rich Harvest Farms, boasts top-seeded Cal, defending national runner-up Illinois and UNLV, a team that made match play a year ago at the NCAA Championship.
Our college golf experts will breakdown each of the six NCAA regionals, answering some of the most asked questions for each regional.
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WINNING TEAM: You could pick California to beat Illinois, but don’t you have to go with Illinois to be the favorite here? The two have only seen each other once this year and California did beat the Illini at Isleworth, but you have to think geography gives Illinois a slight edge. In the end winning is important to these two programs but playing the next week is more important.
SLEEPER (OUTSIDE OF TOP FIVE SEEDS): The obvious pick here is Kent State. The Golden flashes have made it a habit of advancing past regionals doing so in five of the last six years. Kent State had a much better fall season than they played this spring, but we’ve learned to never count out a Herb Page team come regional time.
MEDALIST CONTENDERS: Any one of the top three Illini golfers – Brian Campbell, Thomas Detry and Charlie Danielson. California’s Brandon Hagy is a first team All-American candidate and should play well as should his teammate Joel Stalter. Also look for Kent State Tyler Pendrith and USC’s Rico Hoey.
INTRIGUING STORYLINE: This is a regional that might be the favorite for the most teams outside the top-5 seeds to advance. Outside California and Illinois at the top and Cleveland State and Saint Peter’s at the bottom – each of the other 10 teams could fall about anywhere on the final leaderboard. We have also notice that regionals in the central part of the country tend to provide the most upsets … this one should be fun.
THE FIVE TEAMS ADVANCING WILL BE . . . California, Illinois, Alabama-Birmingham, Kent State and Purdue.
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WINNING TEAM: Cal may not be the team it was a year ago, but behind Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter, the Bears are still the team to beta in this region, although Illinois has the home-state advantage on its side.
SLEEPER (OUTSIDE OF TOP FIVE SEEDS): While Kent State is deserving of recognition, I’m going to go with Clemson. The Tigers have struggled at times this season (three finishes of 13th or worse), but are coming off a third-place showing at the ACC Championship.
MEDALIST CONTENDERS: Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter of Cal are the two of the safe bets to medal, but watch out for USC freshman Rico Hoey, the Pac-12 freshman of the year this season.
INTRIGUING STORYLINE: Notre Dame’s Niall Platt is just the second individual in program history to qualify for the NCAA regionals. Platt is also the school’s current career leader in scoring average (73.08).
THE FIVE TEAMS ADVANCING WILL BE . . . Illinois, Cal, UNLV, Kent State and USC.
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WINNING TEAM: This is California’s regional to lose. A team that is coming off 12 wins last season and adding seven more to its resume this year, the Golden Bears have something to prove this year. Why not start with a victory at regionals then move on to the NCAA Championship. Head coach Steve Desimone will have his guys in the right midset.
SLEEPER (OUTSIDE OF TOP FIVE SEEDS): Kent State. It was just two years ago in 2012 the Golden Flash made it to the match play portion for the NCAA Championship at The Riv. Coming off its sixth straight MAC Championship title, this team is getting hot again at the right time and could be a sleeper not only in this regional, but at Prairie Dunes, too.
MEDALIST CONTENDERS: Two teammates from Cal – seniors Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter – have proven again and again why they are some of the best players in the world. Between Hagy and Stalter, they have six victories in 11 starts this season. Others that will contend: Illinois’ Brian Campbell and Kent State’s Corey Conners.
INTRIGUING STORYLINE: How will teams seeded four through seven finish at Sugar Grove. Ranked 16th by Golfweek, Alabama-Birmingham has one victory and four runner-up finishes this season. UNLV is ranked 28th, Clemson 29th and Kent State is 38th. Not far off from each other, this could be one of the best finishes in any regional this year.
THE FIVE TEAMS ADVANCING WILL BE . . . California, Illinois, Alabama-Birmingham, USC and Kent State.