2014 Preview: College Golf roundtable
Our college golf experts – Lance Ringler (@GolfweekRingler), Julie Williams (@GolfweekJules) and Cassie Stein (@GolfweekCassie) – took a few moments to preview the 2014 spring season for the men and women. Here are the five questions:
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1. Will the California Golden Bears be able to contend for a national championship without the reigning Haskins Award winner Michael Kim?
Lance: Of course the Golden Bears can contend for a national title, especially in a match-play format. However, losing Kim is a big hole to fill. Kim has been the No. 1 or 2 player during Cal's run the last 18 months. They will have to look for help from a couple of players who have not been in the mix.
Cassie: I do believe the Bears can contend although Kim’s loss will have a huge impact, especially adjusting in the first tournament of the spring. The team has the top three spots filled in seniors Brandon Hagy, Michael Weaver and Joel Stalter. Fellow senior Pace Johnson will likely fill the fourth spot for the Bears. Much younger players – James Yoon, Shotaro Ban, Walker Huddy and Cameron Shaw – will get the chance to play and fill the fifth spot.
Julie: The loss of Michael Kim (who turned professional shortly before the holidays), will certainly have an effect on the Golden Bears. The rest of the roster is deep, however. With Kim and Max Homa in last year’s lineup, the incoming freshmen went a little overlooked. Now sophomores, those players could offer backup. As we’re all well aware by now, match play is unpredictable.
PHOTOS: College Men 2013
Images of the top teams and individuals in men's college golf during 2013.
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2. Who will win the NCAA Championship (men and women)?
Lance: On the men's side picking any team other than Alabama is just trying to stir the pot. You won't be able to find much support in picking against the Crimson Tide. Alabama has won every event played this past fall and by an average of double digits in scoring margin. In match play, Alabama's lineup includes all five players ranked inside the top 90 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and three in the top 17. There is a little more wiggle room on the women's side. You have a few favorites and at this point you have to go with either UCLA or USC. I will go with the Bruins, but a lot of golf to be played before the end of May.
Cassie: Because anything can happen in match play, it’s hard to pick a winner, but I’m going with Georgia Tech. Sure, Alabama – the defending NCAA champs – will be there in the end, but I think the Yellow Jackets have a deep roster and the team proved last year that they can compete with the best. With all five returners back, Georgia Tech will also want revenge on Alabama for eliminating them last year in the semifinals. On the women’s side, I wonder how long the USC winning streak can go on? If they lose early in the spring, they will be determined to get back on another streak and the team will win the national title. But if the Trojans continue to win throughout the spring, it might be too much pressure in May, and that’s where the Bruins will take over.
Julie: On the men’s side, Alabama hasn’t been defeated in its past 10 tournaments, it is the clear favorite to win at the halfway point of the season, but certainly not guaranteed (see: my answer to previous question). On the women’s side, USC is an equally clear favorite, but the difference is that the Trojans have UCLA nipping at their heels. USC ran away with the national title last year, and I don’t think the Trojans or any team will run away with it this year. If I had to throw a non-Pac-12 team into the mix, it would be Alabama. I think its spring season will be much stronger than its fall.
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3. Who will be the surprise team at the NCAA Championship (men and women)?
Lance: Men: Why not Illinois again? It seems each year they are in the underdog or dark horse roll and would guess that would again be the case this year if they continue to stay near the top of the rankings. The Illini lost former NCAA individual champion Thomas Pieters and logic might conclude that Mike Small's squad lost a little ground, but that has not seemed to be an issue. Looks like Illinois could once again be that surprise team - at least they are heading into the spring season after finishing the fall ranked No. 6. Women: Washington and not because it is a surprise team. The Huskies have been good for the past couple of seasons, but because we have not seen UW in the mix at the NCAA Championship and this year may be the year they make some noise.
Cassie: Two teams stick out: Central Florida and Virginia. Both teams have underrated players -- Central Florida has Greg Eason, who in my opinion was snubbed for a Walker Cup spot in September, but showed this fall that he can still compete with the top players in college golf; and Virginia has Denny McCarthy, who has continued to have top-5 finish after top-5 finish. Eason and McCarthy played as individuals at the NCAAs in 2013, but expect both teams to be there in the end this year. Women: Why can’t Clemson continue its dream start and be there at the end in May? Can they handle the pressure? Why not? I believe they can and will.
Julie: On the men’s side, Central Florida could be a contender in the spring. The Knights rose to No. 8 in the Golfweek rankings, and their crowning achievement was a runner-up finish at the Isleworth Intercollegiate. As for the women, it’s always hard to judge how a start-up team will fare. Clemson finished its first fall of competition ranked No. 13 in Golfweek’s rankings. The Tigers benefited greatly from Ashlan Ramsey, ranked No. 4 individually. Again, it’s hard to predict how Clemson will fare in the postseason, but I feel safe predicting that the Tigers will appear at the NCAA Championship. I’ll go out on a limb and say they’ll finish in the top 10.
PHOTOS: College Women 2013
Check out images of some of the top women college golfers in 2013.
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4. Who will win the Haskins Award at the end of the college season?
Lance: If forced to cast a vote right now it would have to be Alabama's Trey Mullinax. The senior is ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and Golfstat's player rankings. He has played in four events winning once and finishing T-4, 2nd and T-6 in his other three starts. In 12 fall rounds he has a 69.2 scoring average and his worst round was a 73.
Cassie: Trey Mullinax. The senior finished No. 1 in our Golfweek Sagarin Individual Rankings after the fall. He played in all four events for the Tide and finished no worse than sixth and won the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, one of the best tournament fields all year. Should he go on to win, the Crimson Tide will have won the Haskins Award two of the last three years (Justin Thomas, 2012).
Julie: At the halfway point of the season, I’ll put my money on Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans. A talented player who tied for first at the Carpet Capital then won the U.S. Collegiate to end the fall season.
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5. Who will win the first annual Annika Award at the end of the women's college season?
Lance: Really tough call at this point. You have to think USC's Annie Park and Alabama's Stephanie Meadow are again going to make a serious case to be the POY once it's all said and done. However, there will be others and at this point in time I tend to like what Clemson's Ashlan Ramsey has shown. Winning always matters when talking about POY and Ramsey has two victories in four starts. Her ability to go low is also a focal point, in 12 rounds played this past fall, the freshman has went below 70 five times.
Cassie: When it comes down to it, winning is the most important. Clemson freshman Ashlan Ramsey and UCLA’s Alison Lee both have two wins from the fall season. It’s only a matter of who is going to win more in the spring. If either one can step out of the shadow, Ramsey can. With multiple victories from the summer and now college, it’s only time before she is the top player in women’s college golf.
Julie: I’ll stick with what I said before. Why bet against UCLA freshman Alison Lee? She was a very talented, charismatic junior golfer who transitioned to college with two victories in her first semester. I see that success continuing through the spring.