2001: College - Flagging down a crowded field
By RON BALICKI
Last college season produced one of the best crop of players to emerge in a long time. But they’ve moved on.
Gone are All-Americans Bryce Molder of Georgia Tech and Northwestern’s Luke Donald, the 1999 NCAA champion.
Gone are 2000 NCAA champion Nick Gilliam of Florida, along with Nick Cassini and Erik Compton of Georgia.
Gone are John Engler and Lucas Glover of Clemson, Jon Mills of Kent State and Chris Wisler of East Tennessee State.
Also gone are 2000 U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney and Matt Jones of Arizona State.
They have taken their talents to the professional game.
Does that mean top-quality college golf, as we know it, has come to a screeching halt?
While there may not be any one player who stands out among the best of the best heading into the 2001-02 season, plenty of talent still remains among the Division I troops.
Which one, or ones, will step to the forefront as the season progresses?
“There’s no Molder or Donald type right now, but there’s still a lot of good players out there,” said Arizona coach Rick LaRose, who has junior Ricky Barnes and sophomore Chris Nallen among this category. “We’ll be seeing a number of new faces this year. It should be fun to watch because I think there’s more depth than there’s ever been.”
There’s no doubt the list is well-balanced and filled with young guns. There are only two seniors on Golfweek’s preseason All-America first team, and both – Anders Hultman of Oklahoma State and Bryant Odom of Georgia – have what it takes to rise to the top.
And there are only two seniors on the second team – Georgia’s David Miller and Florida’s Camilo Benedetti.
So what we’ll find this season is plenty of talent, with the early front-runner being Florida junior Ben “Bubba” Dickerson.
Dickerson, who tied for 11th at the NCAA Championship, definitely kicked his game up a notch during August’s amateur tournaments. Not only did he win the Western Amateur, he also was the 72-hole qualifying medalist.
Three weeks later, he battled his way to the biggest title in amateur golf, winning the U.S. Amateur Aug. 26 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Dickerson, 20, of Hilliard, Fla., became only the seventh player since World War II, and the first since Tiger Woods in 1994, to win the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur in the same year.
Dickerson had thoughts of turning pro and not returning to Florida, but those changed with his U.S. Amateur victory, which gives him invitations to next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, provided he remains an amateur.
But Dickerson, who heads the list of Golfweek preseason first-team All-Americans, will have plenty of qualified challengers in the bidding war for college dominance. In addition to Hultman, Odom and Barnes, other preseason first-teamers include Camilo Villegas (sophomore, Florida), Hunter Mahan (sophomore, Oklahoma State), Graeme McDowell (junior, Alabama-Birmingham), D.J. Trahan (junior, Clemson), Nick Watney (junior, Fresno State) and Chez Reavie (sophomore, Arizona State).
But don’t be too surprised if, by season’s end, the No. 1 player doesn’t emerge from the preseason’s second or third team. In fact, he could surface from anywhere.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” said Georgia Tech’s Bruce Heppler, who is hoping seniors Kris Mikkelsen and Matt Weibring and junior Troy Matteson can step up and help fill the void left by Molder. “There are a lot of players with a lot of talent and potential. We’ll just have to see which ones make their way to the top.”
There is no lack of candidates in the running for the No. 1 spot. Now it’s time to sit back and see who is the hungriest in this season’s lion’s den of talent.