With 14 of the top 26 players from last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings not playing college golf this season, many teams have had to find a way to compete without their stars. Here’s a progress report on four prominent teams:
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 10
Final 2008-09 ranking: 3
Notable losses: Jamie Lovemark (19th in last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings); Tom Glissmeyer (24); Tim Sluiter (33)
How they’ve done it: The Trojans arguably were hit hardest by losses from last year, but they’ve hung tough so far this season, thanks in large part to a strong freshman class.
The Trojans have played the nation’s second-toughest schedule (according to the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings). They started the season with an eighth-place showing at Olympia Fields and a seventh at the Ping/Golfweek Invitational.
“We don’t want to show up and finish seventh and eighth,” head coach Chris Zambri said. “I think we’re better than our results so far, based on what I’ve seen (in practice). I don’t think anyone on the team is really content with their play so far.”
Freshman Martin Trainer has been a bright spot, posting top-20s in the first two events. After a mediocre summer, first-team All-American Matthew Giles was 10th at Olympia Fields, but struggled to a middle-of-the-pack finish at the Ping/Golfweek. The Trojans have combined for just three top-25s this season, but have been tightly-packed in the middle of strong fields. Giles will need to stand out from the pack and lead this team if they are to be successful.
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 11
Final 2008-09 ranking: 8
Notable loss: Billy Horschel (9)
How they’ve done it: Andres Echavarria has turned into a top-notch player, filling Horschel’s shoes nicely thus far. Echavarria has led the Gators in both their events (T-3 at Olympia Fields, T-10 at Gary Koch Intercollegiate).
He’s 18th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after playing in just four events last season.
In addition to returning solid players like Tyson Alexander and Tim McKenney, Florida coach Buddy Alexander brought in a deep freshman class. None of the freshmen played at Olympia Fields, but Phillip Choi and Tyler McCumber tied for 24th in their college debuts at the Koch.
The Gators finished sixth at Olympia Fields, then third at the Koch. While they were led by two top-10 finishers at Olympia Fields (Echavarria and Max Kieffer), no one finished better than 10th at the Koch, but four players posted top-25s (Echavarria, Alexander, Choi and McCumber).
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 21
Final 2008-09 ranking: 7
Notable losses: Cameron Tringale (3)
How they’ve done it: Strong competition at home. Only three players – Paul Haley, J.T. Griffin and Kyle Scott – have qualified for both of Georgia Tech’s events (third at Carpet Capital, fourth at Mason Rudolph), but head coach Bruce Heppler is happy about that.
“Any time you have to play really well just to get in the lineup, it’s only going to help you when you get to the actual tournament,” he said. “Any one of our players, Nos. 1-9, can fit right in our lineup.”
Haley, who led the Yellow Jackets with a T-14 at the Carpet Capital, is on the comeback trail after not playing in a tournament last year. Scott, a transfer from Division II West Florida, has had top-25s in his first two events at Georgia Tech. Griffin, the team’s top returnee, has finished T-20 and fourth.
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 34
Final 2008-09 ranking: 48
Notable losses: Zack Byrd (26)
How they’ve done it: Senior leadership. Byrd was one of the hottest players in the country last spring, but the Chanticleers are ranked higher than last year in large part because of seniors Dan Obremski and Sam Lyons. Each player has tied for medalist honors this season, but their reach extends beyond the course.
“After we missed nationals last year, Dan and Sam helped me change the attitude back to where it was at Coastal,” head coach Allen Terrell said. “They have helped re-instill the pride of being one of the closest and hardest-working teams in the country.
“(Dan and Sam) are always asking how to be better leaders. Those guys are the reason (for our good play).”
The Chanticleers have finished third at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, first at the McLaughlin and sixth at the Windon Memorial, where they beat Tennessee, Minnesota, Purdue and Cal.
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Player to watch: Minnesota senior Ben Pisani, an Australian who celebrated his 23rd birthday Saturday, is off to a solid start this season. On Monday, he finished eighth at the Windon Memorial for his third consecutive top 10 to start the season.
Pisani posted another high finish despite making just five birdies in the 54-hole event; he opened the event with consecutive 72s that included just one birdie in each round. Pisani finished at 5-over 218 (72-72-74) at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill.
Pisani is No. 23 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, an improvement of 118 spots over last year. He started the year with a second-place finish at the Gopher Invitational and was seventh at The Wolverine.
“Over the last 12 to 15 months, I have made a big effort to focus my attention on the things I can control,” Pisani said. “I have also made an effort to put more intensity into my practice.”
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Mid-major spotlight: Middle Tennessee State received attention when it made the cut at the 2008 NCAA Division I Men’s Championship. Well, it seems Whit Turnbow has another strong team.
The Blue Raiders started the week ranked 31st in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and have an average finish of third in three events. They finished sixth at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, rallied in the final round and defeated No. 22 South Carolina at the Mason Rudolph Intercollegiate, and finished third fourth at this week’s Squire Creek Classic.
Four MTSU players (Jason Millard, Craig Smith, Hunter Green and Kent Bulle) have posted top 10s already this season.
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A look ahead
What: The Prestige
When: Oct. 11-13
Where PGA West (Stadium Course), La Quinta, Calif.
Why it’s important: After several years at PGA West’s Norman Course, this event is moving to the famed Pete Dye-designed Stadium layout, which hosted last year’s PGA Tour Q-School finals and plays to a course rating of 76.1 and a 150 slope. Pac-10 powers Stanford, UCLA, Washington and USC will be in the field, as well as defending champ TCU. UCLA will be making its season debut with top international recruits Pontus Widegren and Pedro Figueiredo.
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What: Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate
When: Oct. 12-13
Where: Old Overton GC, Birmingham, Ala.
Why it’s important: Players might be surprised when they arrive at Old Overton, as the course has been lengthened about 400 yards (to 7,300) since last year’s event. “They just opened the new tees this weekend, so we haven’t had a chance to preview it,” said Jay Seawell, head coach of host Alabama.
The Crimson Tide will be looking for a fourth consecutive Pate title, but will have to beat a tough field that includes an undefeated SMU team (led by defending individual champ Kelly Kraft), as well as No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Arkansas, No. 18 UNLV and No. 25 Auburn.
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What: Alister MacKenzie Invitational
When: Oct. 12-13
Where: The Meadow Club, Fairfax, Calif.
Why it’s important: Keep an eye on Oregon State. The Beavers usually are an afterthought when discussing the Pac-10’s depth, but they currently sit ninth in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. They’ve only played one event, their own Giustina Memorial Classic, which they won for the third consecutive year. The MacKenzie will show whether Oregon State can compete away from Corvallis.