No. 4: Alabama men, Purdue women
College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men's and women's teams from last year's Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Today, it's No. 4 on the board with the Alabama men and Purdue women.
2010-11 final ranking: 4
Coach: Jay Seawell (10th year)
Top returnees: Cory Whitsett, Bobby Wyatt, Hunter Hamrick
Top newcomers: Freshmen Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., Tom Lovelady of Birmingham, Ala.
Projected starting 5: Cory Whitsett (So.), Bobby Wyatt (So.), Hunter Hamrick (Sr.), Justin Thomas (Fr.), fifth spot TBD
Key losses: Bud Cauley
Key fall tournament: Isleworth Collegiate Invitational
2010-11 recap: After a full season of steady play from Cauley, Hamrick, Whitsett and Wyatt, Alabama was one team many thought would compete for a national title at Karsten Creek. During the regular season, the Crimson Tide won five times (Carpet Capital, Isleworth Collegiate, Puerto Rico Classic, Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate and Linger Longer Invitational).
After 36 holes of stroke play at the NCAA finals, Alabama had their eyes set on the overall No. 1 seed for match play. However, the team had a meltdown in Round 3, fell to 14th and missed match play.
“That was the school’s worst round in six years,” Seawell said. “Bud (Cauley) and Cory (Whitsett) never shot over 75 the whole year and both shot 81 the last round.”
Player to watch: Hunter Hamrick. Said Seawell: “He’s the heart and soul of this team. He was in and out of the hospital at nationals, but demanded to play. He shows nothing but determination and guys follow that.”
2011-2012 preview: Even with Cauley leaving school a year early, there will be high expectations for Alabama. Whitsett ended last year as the 15th-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, while Wyatt was 37th. Even with an up-and-down year, Hamrick finished 65th. “All three can be Player of the Year,” Seawell said. “I can’t distinguish that much between them.”
Thomas, a highly-touted freshman, joins ’Bama this year, and hopefully will ease the loss of Cauley. In 2010, Thomas lost to Jim Liu in the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur at Egypt Valley CC in Michigan. “I think he’ll step right in and won’t need much time to adjust to college golf,” Seawell said. “He can be an instant impact player and be as good as Cory and Bobby were their freshmen years.”
The most interesting battle will be for the No. 5 spot. Seawell will have plenty of guys to choose from for the spot. Last year, Alabama had eight players that played the regular season or postseason at one point. Seawell believes that competition is what drives the Crimson Tide.
Bottom line: Alabama has had all summer to reflect on what happened at Karsten Creek. A new season has arrived and this team will have to move on. On paper, Alabama might be the best team in the country, but that won’t mean a thing if it falters at the most crucial time once again. Expect Alabama to make the top eight next summer at Riviera.
2010-11 final ranking: 4
Coach: Devon Brouse (13th year)
Top returnees: Laura Gonzalez-Escallon, Paula Reto
Top newcomers: Freshman Aurora Kan of Chichester, Pa.
Projected starting 5: Laura Gonzalez-Escallon (Jr.), Aurora Kan (Fr.), Paula Reto (Jr.), Kishi Sinha (RS-Jr.), Jam Vilairatana (Jr.)
Key losses: Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Thea Hoffmeister, Numa Gulyanamitta and Alex Stewart, who transferred to Colorado
Key fall tournament: Fall Preview
2010-11 recap: Purdue started the year as defending national champions, and had a regular season that suggested it could repeat. The Boilermakers won four team titles: Windy City Collegiate Classic, Lady Northern Invitational, Administaff Lady Jaguar and the Battle at Rancho Bernardo Inn.
“Last year returning all five players from a championship team was a known commodity and the year went well,” Brouse said. “We had a chance to repeat, but just to be considered a top program traditionally is quite an accomplishment.”
Despite struggling to a sixth place at the NCAA East Regional, Purdue still was in contention at the finals at Traditions Golf Club. Heading in to the final round of the NCAA Championship, UCLA had a seven-shot lead over Purdue. The Boilermakers played tough, but couldn’t make up the difference. The Boilermakers finished second, four shots back.
Player to watch: Laura Gonzalez-Escallon. Said Brouse: “I’d put her right next to anybody and not blink an eye. She’s a competitor and very talented player. I’m really excited to have her in the lineup for two more years.”
2011-2012 preview: Purdue will have lots of shoes to fill with only two players returning. Brouse lost two seniors and Alex Stewart transferred. “Our challenge is to have a competitive team,” Brouse said. “It’s not an easy task to take that many people away from a program and stay at the top.”
Returning for Purdue will be its top-ranked player from a year ago, Gonzalez-Escallon, and Reto. Gonzalez-Escallon, who won the Battle at Rancho Bernardo last year, finished 16th in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, while Reto was 84th. “Paula (Reto) is a very gifted athlete,” Brouse said. “She has continued to develop in to a better player and there is no reason why she can’t compete with anyone.”
Rounding out the roster will be three players who have little experience combined. Sinha hasn’t competed in a tournament since her sophomore year, Vilairatana hasn’t played yet, and Kan is a freshman. This year will be a big test for Brouse and Purdue.
Bottom line: Purdue is known to be a school that develops young talent. That’s the challenge this year. Inexperienced players Sinha and Vilairatana get their time to be starters. If they contribute, then Purdue can be a team battling for a spot in the top 10.