College Notebook: Lesser-knowns to watch
A golfer’s progress is not always gradual. Every year, a few unexpected players turn into All-Americans. Here are five players who finished outside the top 100 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings that are strong candidates to make the climb to All-American status this season.
Zac Blair, BYU junior
Summer accomplishments: Won Pacific Northwest Amateur; second, Sunnehanna Amateur; second, Sahalee Players; sixth, Pacific Coast Amateur.
2010-11 Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 113
What's changed: Blair was struggling to earn invites to top amateur events at the beginning of the summer, BYU head coach Bruce Brockbank said. Then Blair finished second at the Sunnehanna, a performance that opened the floodgates. Blair’s summer schedule suddenly was filled by top-notch tournaments such as the Western and Pacific Coast amateurs.
“He just took off from there,” Brockbank said. “Getting to compete against the best players in the country definitely elevated his game. The improvements he made in that eight-week period were impressive.”
Blair’s father, Jimmy, also played at BYU and is a former Utah Open champion. Zac Blair is slight of frame – 5-foot-7, 125 pounds – but a stern competitor, Brockbank said. He led the Mountain West Conference in scoring average (71.3 strokes per round) last year, including a victory at the Cougar Classic.
What: Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational
Who: Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Augusta State, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Texas
When: Friday-Sunday, Sept. 16-18
Where: Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club
Why it’s important: Olympia Fields is one of the fall’s top events, and that’s true again this year. Ten of the 15 teams are ranked in the top 30 of Golfweek’s preseason rankings, including No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Stanford, No. 5 Texas, No. 10 Auburn, No. 11 Florida and No. 12 Illinois. Three members of the U.S. Walker Cup team – Auburn’s Blayne Barber, Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers – are expected to be in the field.
“He loves to compete. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Brockbank said. “When you look at him, you’re going to say, ‘Who’s this guy?’ But he’s going to be in a lot of fairways and hit a lot of good shots.”
• • •
Mackenzie Hughes, Kent State senior
Summer accomplishments: Won Canadian Amateur; Sweet 16, Western Amateur; advanced to match play at U.S. Amateur (T-31, stroke play)
2010-11 Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 153
What's changed: Kent State head coach Herb Page calls Hughes a model student-athlete. The 20-year-old senior has a 3.6 grade-point average in business administration. “He’s a bit of perfectionist,” Page said. “The biggest thing is he’s just learned to be a little easier on himself.”
Hughes, who started his season with a third-place showing at the Gopher Invitational, had his share of highlights in 2010-11. He won twice, including the Mid-American Conference Championship. A lack of consistency hurt him in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Including his two victories, he had just three top 10s in 14 starts last year.
Page said some of that inconsistency is due to scheduling. “I don’t mean this as an excuse, but we play so many early spring tournaments when maybe we aren’t ready, and maybe our ranking goes down,” he said. “His key will be making his off weeks into top 10s and top 20s.”
• • •
Bryden MacPherson, Georgia junior
Summer accomplishments: Won British Amateur
2010-11 Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 229
What's changed: A change in philosophies led to a change in fortunes. MacPherson won the British Amateur on June 18, earning spots at the Open Championship and 2012 Masters. He missed the cut by only a stroke at Royal St. George’s. MacPherson then started the 2011-12 season with a third-place finish at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, the best finish of his college career and a continuation of his strong summer.
“Six months ago, I was a struggling college player,” MacPherson said. “I couldn’t quite find my game.”
Just a few weeks prior to his British Am triumph, he was playing in the No. 4 spot for the Bulldogs. He was the Southeastern Conference’s 2010 Newcomer of the Year and represented Australia at last year’s World Amateur Team Championship, but struggled this past spring.
“He works really hard on his golf swing and sometimes gets too technical, and over-analyzes while he’s playing,” said Georgia head coach Chris Haack. “We just finally had a long talk about trying to leave the mechanics on the range and just playing golf, and that’s what he started doing at the end of the year.”
• • •
Will McCurdy, Auburn senior
Summer accomplishments: Won Palmetto Amateur; second (lost playoff), Spirit of America; second(lost playoff), Eastern Amateur; advanced to match play at U.S. Amateur (T-13, stroke play)
2010-11 Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: DNQ
What’s changed: McCurdy played in all four of Auburn’s events last fall, but made the starting lineup just once in the spring (T-59, General Hackler Championship) as he struggled with his game. He quickly turned his game around for the summer, winning the Palmetto Am and finishing second at two other top events. He opened this season with an eighth-place finish at the Carpet Capital.
“Will has worked very hard on his mental game, as well as his putting and short game,” Auburn head coach Nick Clinard said. “He has put in many hours hitting wedges and putting, and it has paid off. His self-belief and game management have really improved over the past year. He continued to stick to the plan on how to improve and has worked diligently to be the best. All the success he has achieved is a credit to him and his exceptional attitude.”
• • •
Corbin Mills, Clemson junior
Summer accomplishments: Won U.S. Amateur Public Links (1st, stroke play) won Players Amateur; fourth, Palmetto Amateur; T-18, Western Amateur; advanced to match play at U.S. Amateur (T-19, stroke play)
2010-11 Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 116
What’s changed: Mills had a decent 2010-11 season, leading Clemson in scoring average (73.0) and posting four top 10s in 10 starts. His summer amateur season was one of the best in the country, though. The reason? The putter.
“He’s always been a great striker of the ball,” Clemson head coach Larry Penley said. “He’s always had the skills, always the talent. It was just making a few more putts per round.”
• • •
Short shots: Abilene Christian junior Alex Carpenter, last year’s NCAA Division II Player of the Year, began the 2011-12 season with a two-shot victory at the Charles Coody West Texas Intercollegiate. It was Carpenter’s 12th victory in 25 career starts. Carpenter represented the United States at the 2011 Palmer Cup and won the 2010 Southern Amateur. . . . Iowa’s Chris Brant and Barrett Kelpin finished 1-2 at the Gopher Intercollegiate, but the Hawkeyes placed sixth as a team. No other Hawkeye finished in the top 50. Arkansas, led by Western Amateur champion Ethan Tracy (5th), won the team title. . . . Wichita State’s Hunter Sparks and Calvin Pearson tied for first at the Wichita Diet Pepsi Shocker Invitational to lead the host team to a 12-shot victory over Kansas State. Sparks and Pearson finished at 9-under 204, four shots clear of the field.