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The Syllabus: The ring is the thing

THE FAB FIVE
My look at the top five teams in the country right now

Texas logo.jpeg1. Texas (Last week: 1)
Got to see for myself at the Insperity Augusta State Invite the team chemistry that the Longhorns possess. Suffice it to say, they're a pretty united ballclub, even as their top two players (Dylan Frittelli and Jordan Spieth) battle it out for not just the No. 1 spot in the lineup for in the country. Only thing that might get in the way for this team is if the pressure of expectations starts to loom large, but I'm not sure that will be an issue with this specific group. 
Next event: Western Intercollegiate, Pasatiempo GC, Santa Cruz, Calif., April 14-15
Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
If there's solace in the fourth-place finish the Crimson Tide had at the Gary Koch last weekend, it's that senior Hunter Hamrick had his best individual finish (T-2) of the year. Shoring up his play will be critical for the team if it hopes to win its first SEC title since 2008.  
Next event: SEC Championship, Sea Island GC (Seaside Course), Sea Island, Ga., April 20-22

Cal logo.gif3. California (5)
The victory at the ASU/Thunderbird was the Golden Bears record fourth in 2011-12 and their first ever in Tempe. Most impressive was the fact that Cal shot the tournament best round of 10 under over the final 18 holes to chase down San Diego State. It's been eight years since Cal won their lone NCAA title, but this squad reminds me of that bunch.   
Next event: Western Intercollegiate, Pasatiempo GC, Santa Cruz, Calif., April 14-15

Arkansas.gif4. Arkansas (NR)
With the Razorbacks' one-stroke triumph at the All-American, that's seven team titles for Brad McMakin's squad. If that doesn't earn him a finalist spot for national coach-of-the-year honors, I don't know what it takes. Meanwhile I'll save you some time looking it up yourself ... Arkansas last won the SEC title in 1995. Competition will be tough, but this is their best chance since then.
Next event: SEC Championship, Sea Island GC (Seaside Course), Sea Island, Ga., April 20-22

Auburn logo.gif5. Auburn (4)
Eight top-three finishes now for the Tigers after their performance at the Gary Koch Invitational highlights the consistency this group has displayed this season. Nick Clinard's team are always in the hunt, which is critical as it focuses on SECs.
Next event: SEC Championship, Sea Island GC (Seaside Course), Sea Island, Ga., April 20-22


Women
UCLA logo 2008-09.gif1. UCLA (1)
A ho-hum 12-stroke victory at the Ping/ASU Invitational was the fifth of the season for the Bruins and the 45th team title earned under coach Carrie Forsyth. Meanwhile Ani Gulugian's share of medalist honors made her the third "new" winner this season for UCLA.
Next event: Pacific Coast Intercollegiate, Half Moon Bay GC, Half Moon Bay, Calif., April 16-17

Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
A victory at the Liz Murphey gives the Crimson Tide momentum heading into SECs. The only hitch is the three-week break between tournaments. Still, finding a more motivated team to avenge last year's finish to the season is going to be a tall task. 
Next event: SEC Championship, Blessings GC, Johnson, Ark., April 20-22

USC logo.gif3. USC (4)
The Trojans margin for error is slim, given that UCLA will be in the field in at least their next two starts. An 81 from Sophia Popov, as was the case in the second round at the Ping/ASU, then is going to be hard to overcome. The good news is that such a score is extreme rare from a player of her caliber (her previous career high at USC was a 77). Says here we don't see that again. 
Next event: Pacific Coast Intercollegiate, Half Moon Bay GC, Half Moon Bay, Calif., April 16-17

LSU logo.gif4. LSU (3)
A ninth-place showing is not the finish the Tigers were looking for at the Ping/ASU event, but came without Austin Ernst in the lineup. It's going to be really interesting which LSU team shows up for the SEC Championship and beyond. This is a group that has the potential to win its final three tournaments, but could finish sixth in them all just as easily.   
Next event: SEC Championship, Blessings GC, Johnson, Ark., April 20-22

Tennessee logo 2008-09.gif5. Tennessee (NR)
If this was a horse race, the announce would start to raise his voice and say "and on the outside, the Lady Vols are making a late surge." The two wins at the LSU Invite and Bryan National (in a playoff) in their last three starts are impressive, but whether Judi Pavon's team has enough to keep racing to the tape as the post-season approaches remains to be seen. Working in their favor is the fact that Erica Popson wasn't the low scorer in the final round at Bryan Park (that was Kaitlyn Rohrback, hinting that this group isn't Popson and the four pips.       
Next event: SEC Championship, Blessings GC, Johnson, Ark., April 20-22



STAT OF THE WEEK
15
Number of players in on teams in the field at this weekend's Western Intercollegiate who have won tournaments during the 2011-12 season. (T.J. Kua, Hawaii; Jamie Hall, Hawaii-Hilo; Zachery Fullerton, N.M. State (2); Eugene Wong, Oregon; Daniel Miernicki, Oregon; Andrew Vijarro, Oregon; J.J. Spaun, San Diego State (3); Matt Hoffenberg, San Diego State; Jay Myers, San Jose State; Steve Lim, USC; Jeffery Kang, USC; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford; Jordan Spieth, Texas; Pedro Figuerido, UCLA; Mario Clemens, UCLA)



TWEET OF THE WEEK

Tweet of the Week (4-12-2012).jpg
—Amy Anderson, North Dakota State junior



RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

It's becoming easier to list the TV shows that former Georgia golfer Bubba Watson and his new green jacket haven't appeared on this week than it is those that they have.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. The first marquee conference championship begins today with the ACC women's title up for grabs at Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, N.C., and frankly I'm pretty excited. If you're looking for a specific prediction here on who will claim the championship rings up for grabs, then I say go with Duke and the Blue Devils' Lindy Duncan (I'm more confident in the later than the former, by the way). Meanwhile, I'll put together a more complete look at the championship season over the weekend on the blog.

This time of year always fascinates me, perhaps because I'm a bit of an anthropologist at heart. I enjoy watching athletes to see how they respond when the stakes rise. Inevitably some players struggle with this, and writing about their tribulations is probably the toughest part of my job. But watching the players who thrive is undoubtedly the best part. What never gets old for me about covering college and amateur golf is seeing the pure joy of someone achieving a goal, often accomplishing something that frankly they weren't 100 percent positive they could (despite all talk about "believing in the process").

It happened last year at NCAAs with LSU freshman Austin Ernst. Sure she was talented, but to come through and perform at the most critical moment of the season was something that wasn't a given just because she was talented. Something else has to occur, something where talent intersects with opportunity and is not detoured by pressure. When everything breaks right, it's like listening to beautiful music. And for some reason, I get the feeling we're all going to enjoy the playlist that we're about to hear over the next five weeks.


2. I'm not guaranteeing that UCLA's Patrick Cantlay is going to win Western Intercollegiate, but I think we're going to see the "old" Cantlay again this week at Pasatiempo and likely beyond. The tournament will be played an Alister Mackenzie design, an architect that Cantlay became familiar last week at the Masters. More importantly at Augusta National GC, I think Cantlay became recharged. His play wasn't standout, even though he earned low amateur honors, but the setting was something that Cantlay needed to get his 2012 kickstarted. The championship environment is something that I think fuels the Long Beach, Calif., native. No one close to Cantlay will say it so succinctly, but having had the Masters on the horizon the past few months has probably been a distraction; the anticipation of the event became the focus as the run up to April, with everything else being pushed aside. Having gotten through the Masters, and essentially thrived, Cantlay can take that experience with him through the remainder of the college season. (Sure you could argue all the same distractions lie ahead with the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, but having played at Congressional last summer takes the stress level down a notch.)

I'm reminded of a saying from another sport: Big-time players step up in big-time events. Cantlay is definitely the former, and we're likely to see the later in the next few weeks.


TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS
MEN
Wolfpack Spring Open
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Lonnie Poole GC, Raleigh, N.C.
April 14-15
Host: N.C. State
Defending champion: Richmond (+14/582) by five strokes over Lamar; Lamar's M.J. Daffue (-3/139) by five strokes over Binghamton's Jake Katz and Lamar's Xavier Feyaerts
Field: Army, Binghamton, Connecticut, Drexel, East Carolina, Francis Marion, George Mason, James Madison, Lamar, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisville, Loyola (Md.), Middle Tennessee State, Navy, N.C. State, Troy, Valparaiso
Skinny: An diverse group of schools heading to Raleigh to get in one final tune-up before their various conference championships.

Hawkeye-Great River Entertainment Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Finkbine GC, Iowa City, Iowa
April 14-15
Host: Iowa
Defending champion: Iowa (+13/589) by three strokes over Charlotte and Missouri; Charlotte's Andy Sajevic and Iowa's Vince India (-2/142) by
Field: Charlotte, Iowa, Iowa State, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Minnesota, UM-Kansas City, Nebraska, Penn State, Washington State, Wisconsin
Skinny: Tournament celebrates its 19th year with host Hawkeyes the favorite to repeat after finsihing second to LSU in Baton Rouge April 1.

Robert Kepler Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Scarlet Cse. at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio
April 14-15
Host: Ohio State
Defending champion: Illinois and Kent State (+8/860) co-champions; Illinois' Luke Guthrie and Kent State's John Hahn (-3/210) co-medalists
Field: Ball State, Bowling Green State, Dayton, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Kent State, Marshall, Northwestern, Ohio, Ohio State, SMU, Toledo, Western Kentucky, Wright State, Xavier
Skinny: The Buckeyes have claimed the title 23 times since the tournament's inception in 1969 while other schools have earned the title (include years there are co-champions) 19 times.

Western Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Pasatiempo GC, Santa Cruz, Calif.
April 14-15
Host: San Jose State
Defending champion: UCLA (+16/1,066) by eight strokes over USC; N.M. State's Timothy Madigan (-3/207) by two strokes over Stanford's Andrew Yun, San Jose State's Mark Hubbard and Augusta State's Patrick Reed
Field: California, Denver, Hawaii, Hawaii-Hilo, Kansas, New Mexico State, Oregon, San Diego State, San Jose State, Stanford, Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC
Skinny: The historic event is being played for the 66th time, the longest run event west of the Mississippi. Past winners have included Ken Venturi (San Jose State, 1951 & 1953), Johnny Miller (BYU, 1968), Peter Jacobsen (Oregon, 1974), Mark Lye (San Jose State, 1975) and Mark O'Meara (Long Beach State, 1978).


WOMEN
Indiana Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Indiana University GC, Bloomington, Ind.
April 14-15
Host: Indiana
Defending champion: Louisville (+17/593) by 22 strokes over Eastern Michigan; Louisville's Maria Castellanos (+1/145) by two strokes over Louisville's AnnaKarin Ljungstrom and Louisville's Sara-Maude Juneau
Field: Ball State, Bradley, Butler, Eastern Michigan, Evansville, Illinois State, Indiana, IUPUI, Kansas State, Marshall, Missouri State, Toledo, UM-Kansas City, Valparaiso, Western Michigan
Skinny: Event moves back to campus course after being held at Otter Creek GC last year.

Pacific Coast Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Half Moon Bay GC, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
April 16-17
Host: UC Davis/Oregon
Defending champion: Oregon (+27/891) by one stroke over Texas A&M; Texas A&M's Katerina Ruzickova (+2/218) by two strokes over Oregon's Ashley Edwards and Long Beach State's Noelle Zavaleta
Field: Arizona, California, Fresno State, Long Beach State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, San Jose State, Stanford, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State
Skinny: This second-year event steps up its field with UCLA, USC, Arizona and California competing, all ranked in the top 15 in the latest Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll.



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