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Never heard of these folks? You soon will

I like to think I make some decent educated guesses in the players I've selected for these awards in years past. With Matt Hill, Nick Taylor, Lizette Salas and Marta Silva Zamora among them, I've had a decent track record. Last year my selections included Dylan Frittelli and Thomas Pieters. The former won the deciding match for Texas in the Longhorns victory over Alabama at the NCAA Championship and the latter was medalist at nationals, so I think my credibility remains for another season.

With that, here are some players who devoted college golf fan might know about but who casual fans should become familiar with in the near future.


BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
MEN

New Mexico-James Erkenbeck.jpgJames Erkenbeck, New Mexico
In 2011-12, the San Diego native managed to shrink his scoring average from 73.31 the previous year to 71.90 after shooting in the 60s in 11 of his 42 rounds (the same number he had shot in his freshman and sophomore years combined). Thus far into his final season with the Lobos, the fifth-year senior has put up similarly tidy numbers: a 71.93 average in five starts. Most impressive was his runner-up showing at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational after finishing sixth at the Tucker Invitational.

Erkenbeck's performances have been key to the revival of the Lobo program, as Greg Milligan's squad has risen from No. 23 in the preseason Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll to No. 6 in the latest edition the first time the team has cracked the top 10 since May 2005. When Erkenbeck shared medalist honors at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship this summer, there was certainly a feeling that the 23-year-old was getting comfortable being seen as one of the top collegians/amateurs in the country. His play this fall hasn't done anything to make people think differently. 

Honorable mention: Scott Fernandez, Iowa State
The sophomore played in only three of the Cyclones' five tournaments this fall (he missed the other two because he was playing for Spain at the World Amateur Team Championship) but made the most of them, finishing in the top three in all three events, including runner-up showings at the Northern Intercollegiate and the VCU Shootout. Oh, and at the WATC, he walked off with a T-13 showing. His collegiate performance left him 10th in the Golfstat Cup ranking, the highest position of any Iowa State player in school history.


WOMEN

TXstate-Krista Puisite.jpgKrista Puisite, Texas State
Obscurity is something the senior has lived with for the better part of her career as a Bobcat, despite being the best female golfer to ever come out of Latvia and twice representing her country at the World Amateur Team Championship. Yet this fall, Puisite's body of work as a collegian—15 top-10 finishes in 33 starts entering her final year—is finally being recognized thanks to a break-out victory at Mary Fossum Invitational in September, arguably the biggest individual victory for any player in the program's history.

It was the third time that Puisite, who also has carried a 4.0 GPA, has won or shared medalist honors in her career. Methodical is how Texas State coach Mike Akers has described her play, in contrast to younger sister Mara, also a member of the Bobcats who Akers characterizes as more aggressive. Indeed, Krista has an impressive 24.8 birdie conversion rate (ranking her 40th out of 698 players tracked by Golfstat) while also have a 2.75 bogey per round average, ranking her 37th in the country.

Honorable mention: Ally McDonald, Mississippi State
The sophomore from Fulton, Miss., who was the first female to win the boys state high school championship before earning All-SEC freshmen honors in 2011-12, ended the fall season on a high note, sharing the individual title at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown while recording the fourth lowest 54-hole score (214) in school history. It was the third top-10 performance for McDonald this fall and continued her streak of being the top finisher for the Lady Bulldogs in every tournament she has played since enrolling in school in the fall of 2011 (13 and counting).


BEST PLAYER YOU'LL HEAR PLENTY OF BY SEASON'S END
MEN

California-Michael Kim.jpgMichael Kim, California
With five Golden Bears ranked in the top 31 players by Golfstat, standing out from the crowd doesn't always come easy, particularly when three of your teammates have previously reached at least the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur. Still, the sophomore from Del Mar, Calif., distinguished himself this fall by posting the low stroke average—70.1—on a squad that won all five of its tournament starts and ran off with the No. 1 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll.

"He's a tremendously hard worker and a great player," Cal coach Steve Desimone said earlier in the fall. "He's followed up his freshman year the way we had hoped, and that is by actually playing better than he did a year ago. He's on a path that we really like to see, and we're confident that things are only going to get better."

Individually, Kim had top-10 finishes in all five tournaments, including a victory at the Isleworth Collegiate to finish off the fall campaign. He also broke his career best when he shot a 64 in the first round of the Alister MacKenzie Invitational. According to the Cal Sports Information Department, he had the highest head-to-head win totals in the nation against top-25 (23), top-50 (47) and top-100 (83) competition.

More than the individual accolades, however, Kim was excited about how his contributions bolstered the team's performance in the fall. "I'm just glad I was able to help the team win all of our tournaments," Kim said. "I just hit the ball really consistently, and my low rounds at the MacKenzie and Isleworth were because I made some putts."
 
Honorable mention: Brandon Stone, Texas
Before stepping on campus in Austin this fall, the South African native has already made the cut in two European Tour events, hinting at his potential. Then in the first start of his college career last September, he claimed medalist honors at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in record setting fashion. Subsequently, he finished T-16 at the Ping Preview and T-21 at Isleworth, solid showings that suggest Stone is capable of shouldering the load in trying to replace countryman (and graduating senior) Frittelli in the UT lineup. With a semester under his belt to get acclimated to college life, the potential for Stone to excel again this spring seems great.  


WOMEN
OU-Anne-Catherine Tanguay.jpgAnne-Catherine Tanguay, Oklahoma
Three-putt isn't a four-letter word, it only feels like one to golfers. That was especially so for Tanguay, who as a freshman boasted a decidedly disappointing average of 1.35 three-putts per round. Considering her overall scoring average for the year was 75.55, the obvious question that followed was how good might Tanguay be if she improved her putting.

Given her performance this fall, we now know the answer. The junior from Quebec averaged on .55 three-putts per round during the first semester (12th best of the 743 players measured by Golfstat). Yet her overall average dipped to 72.33, suggesting that the hard work on the practice greens not only was making a difference with her short game, but was bolstering her overall confidence.

"She hits the ball such a long way," said OU coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell. "So now she has more realistic birdie opportunities."

To wit: Tanguay outpaced the NCAA individual champion, Chirapat Jao-Javanil, in two of OU's four starts. Her three top-10 finishes were matched her overall total from 2011-12. And the Sooners claimed victory in their final two starts of the fall to help them jump to T-8 in the Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll, the highest ever for the program since the poll was resumed in 2001-02.

Having Jao-Javanil at practice each day, along with an improved Emily Collins, has helped push Tanguay to improve. The fact that the team finished sixth overall at the NCAA Championship last year, only eight strokes back of champion Alabama, however, inspired has proved inspiring as well.

"It kind of gave them all a green light," Drouin-Luttrell said. "Now they know they can do it. The expectations coming into this year were greater."

And so have been the results.  

Honorable mention: Demi Runas, UC Davis
The senior from Torrance, Calif., is the two-time reigning Big West Player of the Year and appears to be on her way to a third-straight honor. Already she has been named conference player of the month twice this fall. Still, you can't help but think she's poised for bigger and better honors come spring. In her last 11 college starts, dating back to February 2012, only once has Runas finished outside the top 25 (T-61 at NCAA West Regionals). For her entire career she has played in 39 college events, posting top-10 finishes in 23. 
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