Peter Uihlein, Oklahoma State
No one begrudges the fact that the senior took a break this fall, sitting out of the Cowboys' final three events after playing a lengthy summer schedule that included September's Walker Cup and having committed to taking a dry run at PGA Tour Q school in November. Yet for a team that was already going to be without two first-team All-Americans (Kevin Tway having graduated and Morgan Hoffmann have skipped his senior season to turn pro), missing Uihlein took its toll, as OSU finished third, ninth and 10th in the tournaments without its top returnee (by contrast, last year when Uihlein sat out, the team won three tournaments). The stumble caused Oklahoma State to fall out of the top-10 in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll for the first time since February 2003.
That Uihlein returned for his senior season reflects his commitment to college golf, so there's little worry that he'll be in the lineup this spring or be guilty of looking forward to his pro career and not focused enough in his final college events. The true conundrum is this: can a dedicated, at-the-top-of-his-game Uihlein can truly carry the Cowboys in the post-season? OSU fans don't have to worry about a heartbreaking loss to Augusta State at nationals this year, but they do have to wonder if their lineup is deep enough to actually make match play for the fourth year in a row.
Sophomore Talor Gooch and junior Sean Einhaus are going to need to step up more and do a better job of replacing the contributions of Tway and Hoffmann. Meanwhile, coach Mike McGraw can only hope that freshman Tanner Kesterson, who sat out the fall with mono, will be healthy enough to then take on the role Gooch played as a rookie last season. But all of this depends on Uihlein to return to the first-team All-American form that he has demonstrated the past two seasons. It's not impossible, not even improbable, but it's going to be necessary if OSU is going to make noise at NCAAs.
James White, Georgia Tech
Two years ago, Chesson Hadley was a highly touted Yellow Jacket entering his senior season, but started slowly in the fall. This year White seems to have followed suit. It's not that he played badly in his three fall starts—his worst finish was T-19. But his best was T-14. For a player who had no performance worse than a T-13 last spring, more was expected. My guess is he turns it around, but like Uihlein that turnaround is critical if Georgia Tech overall is going to succeed late in the spring.
Erica Popson, Tennessee
The two times that the junior from Davenport, Tenn., played all three rounds in a tournament this fall, she showed the form that during his sophomore year earned her three victories and first-team All-American honors, recording a second-place finish at the Cougar Classic and a T-8 at the Tar Heel. The problem was the two times that Popson didn't play all three rounds in a tournament for the Lady Vols. A hand injury kept her from finishing the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview after playing the first round and forced her to miss the second round of her home event, the Mercedes Benz SEC/Pac-12 Challenge.
Popson had surgery to repair the injury just days after the final fall event. The hope is that she'll be able to play painfree this spring without missing any action. How quickly she recovers, and whether she'll be able to return to the level of play she has shown previously, will have true ramifications on the SEC and national player-of-the-year races.
Marta Silva Zamora, Georgia
Had you told me in August that last year's college player of the year, wouldn't have the low stroke average for the Bulldogs this fall, I would have said get your head examined. But the Spaniard started slowly this fall, with just one top-20 finish in her first three events. By the end of the fall, she would sport a 73.58 average, second to Emile Burger's 72.5 on the UGa squad. A T-7 at the SEC/Pac-12 Challenge to close the fall hinted that the Zamora of old isn't far away, but the winter break will force us to wait and see if she can regain her POY form.