Winners, surprises and teams worth watching in college golf

Matt Wolff Oklahoma State Golfer Oklahoma State

Winners, surprises and teams worth watching in college golf

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Winners, surprises and teams worth watching in college golf

The 2018-19 college golf season enters a break, as the fall portion has concluded.

While the spring offers the most important events of the season, there’s still a lot to take from the fall. There were winners, surprises and teams that hinted at their huge potential.

Golfweek offers a winner, a surprise and a team to look out for on the men’s and women’s side entering the spring.

Men

Winner: Oklahoma State

It’s still the Cowboys’ world at the moment in men’s college golf. The defending national champs haven’t skipped a beat, winning twice this fall and rolling to a No. 1 ranking. The team also has a monopoly atop the individual rankings with Viktor Hovland (No. 1) and Matt Wolff (No. 2). Storied OSU has never won back-to-back national titles. Considering what they showed this fall, the Cowboys’ first repeat may very well be coming.

Surprise: SMU

A sizable jump in the rankings shouldn’t be a shock for the Mustangs considering their vaunted Class of 2018 haul. But this leap has been remarkable. SMU didn’t even qualify for regionals last season and finished ranked 87th. A season later, the Mustangs are a top-10 team, sitting at No. 9 heading into the spring. Sophomore Noah Goodwin, a former No. 1 junior who came in a semester early last spring, has performed well in his first full season. So has highly touted freshman Ben Wong. But the Mustangs have put in a full-on attack with sophomore McClure Meissner going from top-150 player to top-25, and freshman Ollie Osborne making it four SMU players performing at a top-100 level.

Team to look out for: USC

The Trojans were banging on the door of a national title from 2015-17, reaching the NCAA Championship final once and match play all three years over that span. USC’s play in the 2018 postseason was a step back, as the team failed to qualify for nationals. Expect the No. 4 Trojans to revert to their previous form this spring. Last postseason, USC didn’t have depth behind Justin Suh. The star player finished the season ranked third in the country, but no other Trojan was in the top 200. That has changed drastically. Suh, a senior, is his normal strong self (currently ranked No. 5), but four other Trojans are in the top 200 – with three in the top 70. Sophomore Kaito Onishi has gone from No. 201 to 14 and fellow sophomore Issei Tanabe has rocketed from No. 633 to No. 60. Freshman Charlie Reiter, oozing with otherworldly potential, is ranked 69th. This is a relatively young group, but that means the room for growth is only higher. Don’t be shocked if USC comes out on top this spring.

Women

Winner: USC 

The women’s program has been a powerhouse at USC, and that didn’t stop with a new person in charge. Andrea Gaston, who became a legendary coach in leading the Trojans to three national titles, shockingly left for Texas A&M this summer. But USC had a worthy in-house successor in Justin Silverstein – Gaston’s former assistant and the men’s assistant coach prior to replacing Gaston. Under Silverstein’s direction, USC won three of four events this fall and nabbed a No. 1 ranking. A young Trojans squad finished 2017-18 ranked fifth and reached the semis at NCAAs. So even with a new coach, their top billing isn’t a shock. But it’s definitely a welcome development for a program looking for its first national title since 2013.

Surprise: Vanderbilt 

The Commodores did not hold back on their fall schedule and they didn’t back down. Vanderbilt last finished a season in the top 15 in 2014, but they could be looking at much more this year with the Commodores coming out of the fall ranked third. The infusion of freshmen Auston Kim and Annie Kim was always going to help Vanderbilt, which finished last season No. 25, jump. But it’s also been Abbey Carlson (No. 115 to No. 3) and Courtney Zeng (No. 155 to No. 30) rising that has made for a step up that wasn’t predictable – Vanderbilt was only Golfweek’s preseason No. 16, after all. The Commodores are already making quite a mark.

Team to look out for: Florida State

The Seminoles boasted a stellar freshman class that is already taking shape. But if these youngsters really get it going in the spring … watch out. Florida State was a respectable 20th after the fall and were led by freshman Frida Kinhult (ranked eighth). Fellow freshman Beatrice Wallin has also made a mark at No. 74. But Puk Lyng Thomsen and Amelia Williamson, both high-potential freshmen, haven’t made a full impact yet. With the fall jitters gone and a winter offseason to hone their skills, this youthful group could be one of the highest-powered in college golf this spring if it plays its cards right. Gwk

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