College Men

Men's preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

Virginia freshman Denny McCarthy
Virginia freshman Denny McCarthy ( Courtesy Virginia athletics )

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How good can Virginia be this season? It depends largely on its two best players, its ideal blend of youth and experience.

Ben Kohles, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Collegiate because of a lingering back injury. (Virginia went on to finish 13th.)

“Hopefully he’ll be healthy in the spring,” Cavs coach Bowen Sargent said. “He’s been fighting it for more than a year.” When Kohles is healthy, Virginia possesses one of the steadiest lineups in the ACC, if not the entire country. In three starts with Kohles in the lineup, the Cavs played the 15th-most difficult schedule and didn’t finish worse than fourth.

That also has to do with the spectacular play of freshman Denny McCarthy, who has three top 10s in four starts. Sargent, for one, isn’t surprised.

“It’s just his tenacity,” Sargent said of McCarthy, a semifinalist at the 2010 U.S. Junior who was the seventh-ranked incoming freshman. “He loves to win, and he wants to compete every day, whether it’s a tournament or just a putting and chipping contest. He’s a born winner, and you can’t coach that.”

Last year, the Cavs finished eighth at the East Regional, snapping a streak of three consecutive NCAA Championship appearances. It was a missed opportunity for a team that finished the season ranked 21st in the country.

Will the Cavs suffer a similar fate this year? Not likely.

Yes, they are relying heavily on McCarthy (No. 66 in Golfweek’s rankings) and another newcomer, Ji Soo Park, who in the final weeks of the fall season solidified himself as the No. 5 player. But a healthy Kohles makes this team a serious national-title contender.

“‘This team is as talented as any we’ve had, from top to bottom,” Sargent said. “I just don’t know if we have the experience yet. We’ll find out.”

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Top of the class: Georgia Tech

Best player this fall: Brooks Koepka, Florida State

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Past champions

2007: Virginia Tech

2008: Florida State

2009: Georgia Tech

2010: Georgia Tech

2011: Georgia Tech

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Conference capsules

Georgia Tech (Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: No. 9)

Could have been an outstanding start after leading in three of four fall starts. No standout player thus far -- Anders Albertson, at No. 29, is highest in Golfweek’s rankings -- but the team’s victory at the Brickyard is a sign of things to come.

Clemson (No. 16)

Reigning U.S. Public Links champion Corbin Mills won at the Jerry Pate, but the Tigers have yet to coalesce as a team. Aside from a T-2 at the Pate, Clemson was no better than fifth in three other fall starts.

Duke (No. 17)

Schizophrenic fall performance -- 13th, 1st, 5th, 8th, 2nd -- leaves plenty of questions for the Blue Devils. Junior Julian Suri a standout thus far; victory at Rod Myers among three top-20 finishes.

Florida State (No. 20)

Finally, a victory for senior Brooks Koepka at the Brickyard. The ’Noles have fared well despite Lucas Bjerregaard’s unexpected departure before the season.

Virginia (No. 34)

The Cavs’ only clunker thus far (13th at U.S. Collegiate) was because senior Ben Kohles withdrew. Virginia’s best player might be its least experienced: Denny McCarthy has three top 10s in four starts.

Wake Forest (No. 42)

Quiet start to the year for senior Lee Bedford (who has slipped to No. 192 in Golfweek’s rankings), and as a result, the Demon Deacons have struggled. Both are poised to bounce back in a big way this spring.

Virginia Tech (No. 63)

Unpredictable fall, but Trevor Cone and Mikey Moyers each notched third-place finishes in the fall. That’s a start.

North Carolina State (No. 70)

The Wolfpack lost Mitch Sutton to a wrist injury after the first event. He’s set to return, which could greatly alter N.C. State’s fortunes.

Maryland (No. 94)

No better than fourth in five starts, but Jordan Sweet’s first semester on campus (three top 20s) has been encouraging.

North Carolina (No. 95)

Andrew Sapp’s first year at the helm in Chapel Hill has had its share of ups and downs; fifth at season-opening Wolverine Invite the main highlight thus far.

Boston College (No. 245)

Transformation at BC is still ongoing; Eagles have finished outside the top 8 in each of their five fall starts.

Conference championship

ACC Championship, April 20-22, Old North State Club, New London, N.C.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Georgia Tech. At times this past fall and last season I would put the Yellow Jackets in the category of a top contender to win the NCAA Championship. Georgia Tech has dominated ACC Conference Championship play in recent years and we should see Bruce Hepler's sqaud add another trophy to the case this spring.

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Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

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