2006: Freshman race could go to wire
By Lance Ringler
Brian Harman entered his college career as the most-heralded recruit in the 2005-06 freshman class, and was considered by many to be a virtual lock for NCAA Freshman of the Year honors. Not only had he been on top of junior golf for several months, he had signed to play for the Georgia Bulldogs – the defending NCAA champion and preseason No. 1.
It didn’t take long for Harman to make a statement at the next level. Playing in his first college event, the newcomer from Savannah, Ga., shared medalist honors with Oklahoma State sophomore Pablo Martin, last season’s Freshman of the Year, with an 11-under performance at the Golfweek/Ping Preview.
With the departure of Minnesota freshman Antti Ahokas, who returned home to Sweden before the end of the semester to turn pro, Harman ended the fall as the top freshman in the country, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. But the margin was slim. And midway through the spring, the race for this year’s top spot arguably is closer than any in recent memory.
Eight rookies are in the top 50 of the Golfweek rankings, with Georgia State’s Mark Haastrup – who won the Carpet Capital Collegiate in the fall over a loaded field that included Georgia and Harman – leading the way at No. 15.
UCLA’s Erik Flores is close behind Haastrup at No. 19. Flores, who chose the Bruins over Georgia Tech, was an AJGA All-American last year, and his goal for this season is to be a first team NCAA All-American, as well as being named the nation’s top freshman.
Three of the past six Freshman of the Year winners – Martin, Alejandro Canizares and Camilo Villegas – also have been first team All-Americans.
“Erik is an exceptional talent, and the good news with him is he is really learning how to play,” said Freshmen coach O.D. Vincent. “He is very, very coachable, very hungry and very confident, and at the same time understands the things he needs to improve."
“His best golf is still ahead of him.”
The transition has been smooth for Flores, who placed in the top 10 in his first four starts, including a pair of runner-up finishes at the CordeValle Collegiate tand the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship. He leads UCLA with a 72.7 scoring average.
“I got off to a pretty good start,” Flores said. “Nothing really changed golf wise for me (from juniors to college). Same ball, same hole, and that’s the way I go about it."
“It’s been a lot of fun.”
Harman also is very much in the mix at No. 22, meaning the decision on this year’s top freshman may come down to the trio’s performances in the postseason, and maybe even to the final putts at the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship at Sunriver, Ore.