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The Syllabus: Be ready right quick

By Ryan Herrington

Say this about the spring college golf season: there's no easing in to the action for many marquee programs.

Several early February events have some of the deepest fields of any tournaments all spring. On the men's side, the Amer Ari Invitational wraps up today in Hawaii with eight of the top 25 teams from the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll competing. On the women's side, this week's the Northrup Grumman Regionals Challenge, with four of the top five teams in the latest Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll, is the ranked the fourth toughest event of the spring this year (after being No. 1 in 2012) while the Lady Puerto Rico Classic is tied for sixth toughest.

The majority of coaches I've talked to like to play a difficult event at the outset as it helps better assess where their team stands as well as helping motivate the team during the winter break. That said, coaches from programs in northern climates where practice has been tough to come by prefer a "soft" start to the spring in order to ease into the competition and not get battered around in the early events that might harm their ranking come the postseason.

It's why I think the Big Ten Match Play event that the men's programs in the conference play in each year, I think is the best of both worlds. There are enough quality teams for programs to get a legitimate feel for how their rosters are shaping up, and the match-play format and the fact that no school has a real weather advantage over others create a relatively level playing for the schools.

The early season event that actually intrigues me the most, however, is the Northrup Grumman, which will be held for the 17th year at Palos Verdes GC in California. This is the one spring college tournament, men's or women's, that I've never covered that I would love to go to some day. Talking to the coaches who played in the event, there's a legend about the slick and contours Palos Verdes' greens that I'd like to see for myself. Several coaches have told me they love playing there because of the challenge the greens pose. Others have played a few times and don't want to go back, saying the greens actually got into the heads of players and spooked them in later spring events.

Mind you those are coaches who didn't play all that well the times they did compete at Palos Verdes.

Long story short, you've got to bring it early in college golf. Otherwise you're in for a bumpy start to the spring.
THE FAB FIVE
My look at the top five teams in the country right now

Cal logo.gif1. California (Last week: 1)
Maybe the Golden Bears should lose more tournaments. Days after failing to win their first event of the 2012-13 season, the Berkeley boys are profiled in The New York Times. #sarcasmfont    
Next event: John Burns Intercollegiate, Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer Course), Kahuku, Hawaii, Feb. 20-22
 
Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
The Crimson Tide only hit 56.1 percent of their fairways collectively in the fall. Did pretty well despite being wild off the tee. Meanwhile, Cory Whitsett got pipped in the final round of the Jones Cup last weekend, but the folks in Tuscaloosa should be happy to see him in the hunt this early in the spring.
Spring opener: Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 17-19

New Mexico logo.gif3. New Mexico (3)
The Lobos win at the Arizona Intercollegiate lifted them to No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin ranking, making them the highest-ranked UNM team on campus in any sport.
Next event: John Burns Intercollegiate, Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer Course), Kahuku, Hawaii, Feb. 20-22

Texas logo.jpeg4. Texas (4)
The Longhorns are going to need to rally this afternoon in Hawaii, after entering the final round in third place, six strokes back of the leaders. For those who want to give up on the Longhorns, do it at your own risk.
Spring opener: Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa Kings GC, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, Feb. 6-8

Washington 2012-13.jpeg5. Washington (5)
Going to be interesting to follow the Huskies today as they start the final round in Hawaii with a two-stroke lead on Pac-12 rival UCLA. The trio of Chris Williams, Cheng-Tsung Pan and Trevor Simsby is holding up their end of the bargain, but it's the play of Jonathan Sanders that's most impressive. The freshman was T-49 in his one fall start (at UW's home event)) with a 77 stroke average. Through 36 holes at Waikoloa he's four under par and tied for third.
Spring opener: Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa Kings GC, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, Feb. 6-8


Women
Alabama logo.gif1. Alabama (1)
With starts in the 2011 British Open and 2012 U.S. Women's Open, junior Stephanie Meadow will get the chance to play in her third different professional major championship after receiving an invitation this week to compete in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.
Spring opener: Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 10-12

Florida logo.gif2. Florida (2)
Make that six for six in terms of the number of tournaments during the 2012-13 season in which a Gator golfer has claimed medalist honors as Mia Piccio won the rain-shortened Lady Bulldog Individual Championship last weekend with a three-under 69.      
Next event: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13

USC logo.gif3. USC (3)
A statistical reason to be high on the Trojans: Andrea Gaston's team had a 73.60 average individual player score in 2012-13, ranking them fourth best according to Golfstat. This comes, however, after the team made just 111 birdies collectively, 79th best in the country. Moral of the story: this group doesn't make a lot of big numbers, something that can come in handy during the postseason.  
Spring opener: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13

North Carolina logo 2008-09.gif4. North Carolina (4)
Foursome of Katherine Perry, Casey Grice, Jackie Chang and Elizabeth Mallett were solid in the fall, but the search for a fifth starter continues. Senior Courtney Gunter gets her crack at it in 2012-13 this week outside Orlando, her first start for team since last year's NCAAs.
Spring opener: UCF Challenge, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., Feb. 10-12

Washington 2012-13.jpeg5. Washington (5)
The Huskies were one of the impressive stories of the fall, but the goodwill that Mary Lou Mulflur's crew earned among fellow programs goes by the way side this spring now that the team is among the hunted rather than the hunters.
Spring opener: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13



STAT OF THE WEEK
9
Years since the UT San Antonio men's golf team had last won a college tournament before the Roadrunners' nine-stroke triumph at the Rice Intercollegiate Tuesday. Entering the final round at Westwood GC in Houston five back of Florida Atlantic, fifth-year coach John Knauer's squad posted a closing three-under 285 (led by freshman Brett Hogan's 69) to claim the school's first win since the 2004 Rice Intercollegiate.

 

TWEET OF THE WEEK
Tweet of the Week 2-8-2013 (Max Homa).jpg
—California senior Max Homa. Next thing you're going to tell me is
you can do the eight-minute abs workout in 7:59?



RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
I have to take personal responsibility for the blizzard we're going to be getting today and tomorrow here in New England. I was telling a co-worker just other day how I thought we were going to make it through the winter without any big snow storms. #rookiemistake #jinx      


WHAT TO WATCH FOR
* This weekend, for the first time since 2004, the Florida men enter their home tournament, the SunTrust Gator Invitational without being able to claim the label of defending champions. It's also the first time since 1989 that they aren't the defending runners-up either, having finished T-3 a year ago at Mark Bostick GC in Gainesville.

Whether Florida avenges last year's out-of-character finish will come down whether the walking-wounded that coach Buddy Alexander has on his roster manage to come back in some semblance of playing shape (if they come back at all).

With the first round set for tomorrow, Florida's starting lineup was still not official. Senior T.J. Vogel is coming off surgery for a sports hernia during the winter break. Alexander said lat Monday that Vogel was at 80 percent, and it seems likely he will play. Whether he's joined by Tyler McCumber, however, is more in question with his fellow senior having come down with the flu last weekend.

Also ailing is A.J. Crouch, a freshman who was a solid contributor in the fall season but came down with mono in the off-season. His returned sounded less certain early in the week.

Alexander also faces a decision as to allow sophomore Eric Banks to play as an individual this weekend. Banks, a native of Canada who plays on the national team and who started for the Gators at the NCAA Championship last June, sat out all fall after undergoing open-heart surgery in the summer. (Doctors discovered a heart defect while taking a physical upon arriving to campus.) He has recovered well, whether to keep Banks out for the spring as well or play him and lose a medical redshirt year is unclear.

"Next man up, next man in," Alexander quipped. "We'll do what we can. We'll field a competitive team at the Gator."
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