Best men's college golf team this century? Rankings suggest a few candidates

Best men's college golf team this century? Rankings suggest a few candidates

College

Best men's college golf team this century? Rankings suggest a few candidates

Where does this year’s Oklahoma State golf team rank among the best teams in the history of college golf?

With 10 wins on the season, including an NCAA title, Alan Bratton’s Cowboy squad is certainly in the conversation. However, there are a couple of talking points that may keep it from being called the best ever.

The first is the lack of a Big 12 Conference title. For many, you can’t possibly be considered the all-time best without claiming your conference championship. In fact, as Mike Holder, Oklahoma State athletic director and longtime men’s golf coach, mentioned, this Cowboy team was one of only two Oklahoma State NCAA title teams to win the NCAAs but not the conference championship.

“We have had a lot of great teams, it’s virtually impossible to compare one to the next,” said Holder, part of 10 of those 11 Oklahoma State championship teams.

Another factor to consider is home-course advantage. Oklahoma State won this year at its home course, Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. Since match play was added to the national championship in 2009, not one top-seeded team had managed to convert a stroke-play victory to a match-play victory. The Cowboys became the first No. 1 seed to do it, but the formula included playing at home. In this format, Oregon winning at home in 2016 was certainly a bigger deal. The Ducks were ranked outside the top 20 entering the championship and won as a No. 5 seed while playing Eugene Country Club.

Oklahoma State was the top-ranked team all season, and with nine wins in 12 starts on the road, it would have been the favorite to win anywhere. But the fact that the NCAA Championship was a home game will make it hard for some people to consider this team the best ever.

Bratton agrees it is difficult to make comparisons over long periods of time.

“It’s so hard to compare generations … ever is a long time,” he said. “Clearly this team was very, very good and it’s nice to be considered. What an honor it is for all 10 guys involved and to be in the conversation that is special.”

Oklahoma State after winning the 2018 NCAA title (Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics)

We may not be able to compare the great Houston, Wake Forest and Oklahoma State teams of the past to the more modern-day squads, but what we can do is look at the teams since the 1999-2000 season, when the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings were introduced to college golf.

There are four teams that standout as the best since the turn of the century. Clemson (2002-03), California (2012-13), Alabama (2013-14) and Oklahoma State (2017-18).

If we leave it to oddsmakers to tell us which team was the best, they would likely say the 2002-03 Clemson Tigers.

Larry Penley’s squad finished the year with a power rating difference of one full point better than No. 2 Florida. That means his team was four strokes (rating multiplied by number of players who count towards team score) better per round than the Gators, the next best team in college golf that year. And for three rounds, Clemson would have been a 12-stroke favorite over No. 2.

“That team brought it every week and we won the championship on the hardest golf course I have ever seen,” said Penley.

Penley, of course, is referring to Karsten Creek. With three players ranked inside the top 9 (D.J Trahan, Jack Ferguson and Matt Hendrix), Clemson won the title that year at 39 over through 72 holes. Never has there been three players from same team ranked in the top nine at the end of the year (since 1999-00 season).

Clemson became the first team to win a conference title, regional title and the NCAA Championship that year (NCAA regional play began in 1989), something that has only been done twice since. Alabama is the only other team to accomplish this feat, doing so in 2014.

Penley’s Clemson squad compiled a head-to-head won-loss-tie record of 183-8-3 while playing the second-best schedule in college golf.

This year’s Oklahoma State squad would rank No. 2 with a power-rating difference of 0.78 points. The Cowboys also played the No. 2-ranked schedule and compiled a record of 179-6-1. The top five players for the Cowboys all ranked in the top 57 in college golf.

Now think about this: The top five players from the 2012-13 California team that won 11 times in 14 starts and lost to only three teams all year were all ranked inside the top 19. However, that team was just 0.35 points better than Alabama and played the 16th toughest schedule. While the margin was not big compared Alabama, the Golden Bears were a full point ahead of No. 3 Texas. This suggests second-ranked Alabama would could be compared to some of the best teams, as well.

Had California won the NCAA Championship in 2013, a very good argument could be made for the Golden Bears as not only the best since 2000, but the best ever. However, after winning the stroke play part of the championship, California lost to Illinois in the match-play semifinals.

The 2013-14 Alabama team was 0.67 better than No. 2 Georgia Tech. Jay Seawell’s team went 163-6-2 and won the NCAA title from the No. 2 seed. The Crimson Tide also amassed eight titles, including SECs and an NCAA regional.

Even using the power ratings and the math behind the data from the past 19 years, it’s still difficult to name the best team in college golf. Even using a shorter period of time. Let the debating continue.

A closer look

Clemson (2002-03)
Head-to-Head Record: 183-8-3 (.951%)
Strength of Schedule: 2nd
Wins: 6
Players: (2) D.J. Trahan, (5) Jack Ferguson, (9) Matt Hendrix, (41) Gregg Jones, (144) Ben Duncan

California (2012-13)
Head-to-Head Record: 202-3-1 (.983%)
Strength of Schedule: 16th
Wins: 11
Players: (1) Michael Kim, (11) Michael Weaver, (12) Joel Stalter, (13) Max Homa, (19) Brandon Hagy

Alabama (2013-14)
Head-to-Head Record: 163-6-2 (.959%)
Strength of Schedule: 2nd
Wins: 9
Players: (2) Robby Shelton, (7) Bobby Wyatt, (12) Trey Mullinax, (25) Cory Whitsett, (68) Tom Lovelady

Oklahoma State (2017-18)
Head-to-Head Record: 179-6-1 (.965%)
Strength of Schedule: 2nd
Wins: 10
Players: (5) Matthew Wolff, (6) Viktor Hovland, (14) Zach Bauchou, (37) Kristoffer Ventura, (57) Austin Eckroat

*Head-to-head only include stroke play

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