Believe it or not, the start of another college golf season is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman will break down the top 60 teams for both the men and women. Today, it’s No. 52 on the board with the Middle Tennessee State men and Florida International women.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 52
Coach: Whit Turnbow (fifth season)
Top returnees: Hunter Green, Brett Patterson
Top newcomers: Redshirt freshman Sam Thompson, sophomore Andrew Cho (academically ineligible last season) and sophomore Lucas Armstrong (transfer from ETSU).
Projected starting 5: Hunter Green (Sr.), Brett Patterson (So.), Andrew Cho (So.), Jordan Jennings (So.), Lucas Armstrong (So.)
Key losses: Jason Millard
Key fall tournament: Carpet Capital
2010-11 recap: It was an up-and-down season for the Blue Raiders, who battled most of the spring to get in to the top 50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. In the middle of the spring, MTSU posted three consecutive victories at tournaments with mediocre fields but struggled again at more top-heavy tournaments.
“I think at the end of last year when we played in some big events, we were unable to close,” MTSU coach Whit Turnbow said. “I thought after winning three in a row we (had) turned it around, but I was wrong.”
MTSU struggled in the final weeks of the season. Many thought Turnbow’s squad would contend for the Sun Belt Conference Championship title, but the team faltered to a sixth-place finish before placing 10th at NCAA regionals.
Player to watch: Brett Patterson. Said Turnbow: “He’s the first player I have ever had earn his way to having an amazing amateur summer schedule of the U.S. Open, Publinx, Northeast, among others. He was playing behind (Jason) Millard, but this year will be his time to shine.”
2011-12 preview: College golf observers will know quickly if MTSU is ready to make a jump up the rankings. Turnbow’s team is playing only three tournaments in the fall – and all of them will be challenging. The Blue Raiders open the year at the Carpet Capital, followed by appearances at the Mason Rudolph and Jerry Pate.
Lucas Armstrong, a transfer from East Tennessee State, is expected to step into the lineup after playing in five events for the Bucs. “Armstrong has had a year under his belt after playing all spring with ETSU,” Turnbow said. “It’ll be good to have a guy that has been there and done that in the lineup for us.”
Turnbow put MTSU on the college golf map with its 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championship. Since then, MTSU has made it to regionals every year, and Turnbow knows expectations are high. “I don’t think it’s national news if we win a regular-season tournament anymore,” Turnbow said. “If we want to get this program to where we want it to be, then we have to get to nationals year-in and year-out.”
For the past few seasons, the Blue Raiders have had a solid top three, but the Nos. 4 and 5 have struggled to match up. This year, Whitbow has more depth and a lineup that’s young – a senior and four sophomores – but has experience.
Bottom line: The three fall events will be a measuring stick, and a good start is need to prevent worries about the .500 rule from creeping into the Blue Raiders’ minds. If MTSU makes it out of the rough opening stretch with a healthy win-loss mark, then expect the Raiders to receive their fifth consecutive invite to NCAA regionals and compete for this year’s Sun Belt Conference title.
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 52
Coach: Joe Vogel (sixth year)
Top returnees: Katie Mundy, Shelby Coyle (Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year), Laura Stempfle
Top newcomers: Freshman Makayla Mier of Santa Maria, Calif.
Projected starting 5: Katie Mundy (Sr.), Shelby Coyle (So.), Laura Stempfle (Jr.), Tania Tare (Jr.), Makayla Mier (Fr.)
Key losses: Cristina Marin, Paula Hurtado
Key fall tournament: Oklahoma’s Susie Maxwell Berning Classic
2010-11 recap: Florida International posted the best year in program history, qualifying for its first NCAA postseason, notching two victories and finishing in the top 5 in each event during the regular season. “It was an amazing year,” head coach Joe Vogel said. “We had our lowest scoring average in school history and still played well despite losing our top player (Paula Hurtado) in the spring to elbow surgery.”
Injuries piled up for the Golden Panthers all spring, causing their roster to look like an NFL team’s injury report. Three starters were injured at the end of the spring, and the lack of depth showed against top teams when FIU finished 21st at the NCAA East Regional.
Player to watch: Katie Mundy. “She is very consistent, has a great attitude and is a hard worker with really good balance,” Vogel said of his senior who steps into the No. 1 slot this season. “She has great form and technique.”
2011-12 preview: The Golden Panthers are an up-and-coming program. With much of the attention on nearby major-conference teams such as Florida and Florida State, it is easy to overlook FIU. But at one point last season, the Golden Panthers were the highest-ranked team in the Sunshine State, at No. 21 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “I wasn’t surprised with our early success last year,” Vogel said. “This year I am looking for the same balance and to be in a similar position.”
Unfortunately, the injury bug that derailed FIU’s chances to make a postseason splash last year already seems to be haunting them again. Junior Tania Tare may need more time at the start of the season to recover from a tendon problem in her hand. Also, junior Laura Stempfle is battling a shoulder injury.
Vogel expects to have most of his lineup healthy in the fall, but he also knows other teams are continuously getting better. “Each year, schools bring in two or three girls and can go from being an OK team to a great team,” Vogel said. “It’s tough to say where we are at now, but if we make it to regionals I’d like to see us make it through (to the NCAA Championship).”
When healthy last year, FIU proved it can compete. It had an impressive 121-38-1 overall head-to-head record but was only 4-20 vs. top-50 teams while playing the 96th-toughest schedule in the country. This season, the Golden Panthers will have a much tougher schedule, giving them ample opportunities to see how they stack up against top teams.
Bottom line: Injuries hit FIU hard at the wrong time last season, affecting its postseason chances. But a lot of the talent is back, so expect the Golden Panthers to return to regionals. Once they’re there, cracking the top eight wouldn’t be a shocker, because this team knows how to finish tournaments strong.