Even casual golf fans are learning the names Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa, and for good reason.
As a sophomore at 11-time national champion Oklahoma State last season, Wolff and his unique swing set a program record with six wins, including the individual title at the 2019 NCAA Championship. Hovland had three wins of his own for the Cowboys and earned low-amateur honors at the Masters and U.S. Open, as well as winning the 2018 U.S. Amateur. Morikawa earned Pac-12 Player of the Year honors after two wins – including the Pac-12 individual title – and nine top-five finishes last season, capping an impressive four-year career at Cal.
Just as they did in college, the trio could take the professional ranks by storm. Wolff and Morikawa earned PGA Tour victories just two months removed from college, and Hovland earned his PGA Tour card via the Korn Ferry Tour.
While it’s difficult to project another wave of talent like last season’s, there are a handful of up-and-coming stars willing and able to take charge of the college game. Who better to start with than Texas sophomore Cole Hammer?
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A Houston native and the top-ranked amateur in the world, Hammer defeated Wolff in the semifinals of the 2019 NCAA Championship as part of an incredible freshman year that featured seven top-5 finishes in 11 events. Hammer finished tied for first three times, the last of which came at the NCAA Austin Regional.
Hammer and his then-freshman teammates Parker Coody and Pierceson Coody – twins from Plano, Texas, whose grandfather Charles Coody won the 1971 Masters – were all thrust into unusual leadership roles last season.
“They had to assume a value that was different than most incoming freshmen, and they did it at a great level,” said Texas head coach John Fields, who is entering his 23rd year at the helm in Austin. “The bonus with Cole was his maturity, enthusiasm and desire, which absolutely was necessary for our team.”
The Longhorns’ runner-up finish to national champion Stanford bookended a season of 11 top-five finishes and a lone win at their Austin Regional. Hammer and Pierceson Coody made Golfweek’s preseason All-American list as first-team and third-team selections, respectively.
Outside of Austin, there are plenty of other players looking to steal the spotlight, including one of Wolff and Hovland’s former teammates: Austin Eckroat.
“I’m really excited for Austin to be our leader this year,” said Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton. “He’s been a leader for us already, but (Wolff and Hovland) cast a long shadow and set a high bar.”
Like Wolff, Eckroat was a sophomore last season, and he had a great year for the Cowboys in his own right: a win at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate and six top-10 finishes. The Edmond, Okla., native closed the season with a T-8 finish at the NCAA Championship, an event he led after the first two rounds of stroke play.
An honorable mention All-American as a freshman and third-team All-American last year, Eckroat has continued to grow every year in Stillwater. This summer Eckroat played in the U.S. Open, his first major championship appearance. He also reached the Round of 64 in the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur.
“No stage is too big for him,” Bratton said. “I think Austin’s ready to take those reins, and he’s excited to show that he can lead for us. If he has the kind of year that he’s capable of, then we’re going to be a team to reckon with.”
While Eckroat and Hammer are primed for great years, the nation’s best players may be a bit farther west.
Arizona State’s Chun An Yu led the nation last season in par-4 scoring at 3.92 and caught fire in the spring. Yu won ASU’s Thunderbird Collegiate in April, finished T-2 at the NCAA Stanford Regional and third at the NCAA Championship. This summer he made his second consecutive appearance in the U.S. Open.
Another player to keep an eye on is Pepperdine senior Sahith Theegala. An incredibly talented player, Theegala returns to the Waves after redshirting his true senior season due to wrist surgery in January of 2018. In his college career, Theegala twice has earned All-American honors, just the fourth to do so in program history. Through three seasons the Chino Hills, Calif., native has the best scoring average in Pepperdine history at 70.95. He has 28 top-20 finishes in 38 career tournaments, including 13 top-10s.
That said, not all the firepower is out West.
Florida State junior John Pak had a great sophomore campaign and followed that with a solid summer. Pak won four times last season for the Seminoles, including the ACC Championship, and notched five top-10 finishes at amateur events this summer. At last month’s U.S. Amateur, Pak lost in the Round of 16 to Austin Squires, 2 and 1, despite being just 1-over on Pinehurst No. 2.
Speaking of the U.S. Amateur, few players made a bigger name for himself at Pinehurst than John Augenstein. The fiery Vanderbilt senior with a stellar match-play record finished runner up to Georgia Tech’s Andy Ogletree in the 36-hole final. In the opening 18 on Pinehurst No. 4, Augenstein shot a 5-under 65 for a 2-up lead. The Owensboro, Ky., native earned a spot on the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team.
Matthias Schmid might be the most intriguing player in college golf this year. The Louisville junior from Maxhvette, Germany, was third in the country in birdies last season and set the school record for season stroke average at 70.55. Schmid won the European Amateur this summer at Austria’s Diamond Country Club, just the second German to do so. The win earned Schmid a spot in the British Open, where he missed the cut.
Every year there’s a freshman who bursts onto the scene, and this season look no further than Florida’s Ricky Castillo.
The Yorba Linda, Calif., native had a strong, consistent summer of amateur events, culminating in a Round of 16 appearance at the U.S. Amateur, where he earned the No. 2 seed after stroke play. A two-time AJGA Rolex First Team All-American, Castillo finished third at the Western Amateur, fifth at the North and South Amateur and is an alternate for the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team.
Despite the exit of stars such as Wolff, Hovland and Morikawa, the college game is as deep as ever.