This year's edition will recognize a cast of honorees whose hard work on the course deserves some acknowledgement off of it. I'll try to assess what we've seen for the first three months of the 2012-13 season and what we might be in store for when play resumes in late January.
Each day I'll reveal another award winner culminating with men's and women's Player of the Mid-Season Award on Nov. 21.
With that, I'll begin by revealing my biggest surprises of the first semester.
Trevor Simsby, Washington
Entering the 2012-13 season even casual college fans knew the Huskies' roster packed the proverbially powerful 1-2 punch with in Chris Williams and Cheng-Tsung Pan, both of whom were coming off quarterfinal appearances at the U.S. Amateur. Unbeknownst to most, however, was the fact coach Matt Thurmond had a third golfer who he could consistently rely on—and who would actually outperform the first two on occasion—in Simsby.
The junior from Carlsbad, Calif., posted three top-five finishes in four fall starts, including a victory at the Pac-12 Preview, en route to 70.83 average that outpaced Williams, the top-ranked amateur in the world, by more than a stroke. By comparison, in his 20 starts as a freshman/sophomore he had only one top-five (in a one-round tournament) and four top-10s while compiling a 73.92 career average.
While Simsby performed well in the season-opening Husky Invitational, his turn breakthrough came at the Pac-12 Preview at Pumpkin Ridge, where the team was playing without Williams (who was competing at the World Amateur Team Championship). "We've seen, and any of you who have followed the program have seen, a gradual improvement in Trevor," Thurmond said afterward. "He had a solid year last year and this year is off to a great start. He hasn't been comfortable yet being quite that good and for him to [win at Pumpkin Ridge] was just a huge deal."
Indeed, he followed it up with a T-5 at the U.S. Collegiate to suggest that his sudden rise in stature was something that would be more than temporary.
Honorable mention: Evan Beck, Wake Forest
Six top-10 finishes during his sophomore season in 2010-11 hinted that Beck might be the next big-time player for the Demon Deacons, but a disappointing junior year (one top-10) tempered expectations. Yet the 22-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., looks like he might be ready to revert to his (good) old form, with two top-10 finishes in three fall starts and a No. 21 spot in the most recent Golfstat Cup ranking.
Isabelle Lendl, Florida
For the longest time we read about the potential of the Goshen, Conn., native, one of tennis great Ivan Lendl's three golfing daughters who dominated the junior ranks for seemingly a decade and looked destined to skip college golf entirely and jump quickly to the pro ranks. Yet her swing went south toward the end of high school, and by the time Isabelle settled down in Gainesville, her game appeared to have already peaked.
In 31 college starts, she had seven top-10s (but none in her last 13 starts). Given the arch of her career with the Gators, few would expected much from the 21-year-old as she embarked in August on her senior season.
Few except for Isabelle herself.
After a summer of hard work with a new swing instructor and hours of sweat equity, Lendl was in position to win the first event of the fall, the Cougar Classic, only to stumble in the final round and finish fifth. It's an outcome that might have damaged the comeback mentality she had cultivated during the off season. Lendl, however, used it as more motivation en route to winning her next two starts (Dale McNamara Invitational and the Lady Tar Heel). By the end of the fall she had one more top-10 finish at the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational to her credit and a 70.7 stroke average, tops at the Division I level.
In hindsight, maybe some people saw this coming, Lendl having closed out the final round of the 2012 NCAA Women's Championship with a 66. But I'm guessing few would have figured she was set to become arguably the best player in the women's game again this fall.
Honorable mention: Lindsey Weaver, Notre Dame
Much was anticipated out of the freshman from Scottsdale upon her arrival in South Bend, but the start to her college career has been even more consistently solid than I had figured. In four fall starts, Weaver has finished no worse than T-6, with runner-up finishes at the Windy City Classic and the Susie Berning Maxwell Classic. She had moved into first place at the Landfall Tradition during the second round before Hurricane Sandy washed out the final two rounds, leaving her with a T-3 finish. In her final seven rounds of the fall, she shot par or better all seven times.