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The Syllabus: Spring has sprung

By Ryan Herrington

The house lights blinked this past weekend, signaling the end of intermission for the 2012-13 season. Yet it was anything but quiet from the end of November to the end of January as several stories played out concerning college golf.

* One of the best players in the men's game moved on (Texas' Jordan Spieth turning pro)

* The reigning NCAA men's champion announced he would be turning pro at the end of the spring (Illinois' Thomas Pieters)

* College golf finally got the TV deal was looking for regarding the NCAA Championship (men's finals to be televised by Golf Channel in 2014; women in 2015)

* January freshman arrived and are ready to have an impact (Tennessee adding Oliver Goss, an Australian who was a quarterfinalist at last year's U.S. Amateur; USC adding Annie Park, a New Yorker who played in the 2012 U.S. Women's Open).

* January freshman arrived and are waiting to have an impact next fall (Texas with Beau Hossler, UCLA with Gavin Hall)

There were other storylines to, but the ushers are insisting I find my seat so the second half of the performance can begin. You me, won't you.

My look at the top five teams in the country right now

Cal logo.gif1. California (Last fall: 1)
What's the saying, don't let the perfect get in the way of the good? I think that's something for Steve Desimone's team to chew on in the wake of its third-place showing at the Arizona Intercollegiate on Tuesday. As I wrote a week ago in Golf World Preview, to win everything is nice but winning everything in college golf means claiming the NCAA title come June.    
Next event: John Burns Intercollegiate, Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer Course), Kahuku, Hawaii, Feb. 20-22
Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
It's been quiet in Tuscaloosa this winter. Scary quiet. You get the feeling that while everybody's been talking about undefeated seasons and who's going to play in the spring for what teams, Jay Seawell's boys have been minding their own business and getting after it. If I was Seawell, I'd be showing Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and the boys video of Alabama's BSC romp over Notre Dame every other day to pump them up about what might be possible this spring.
Spring opener: Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 17-19

New Mexico logo.gif3. New Mexico (NR)
What's it take for a team to get a little recognition around here? Oh, that's what it takes. Victory at the Arizona Intercollegiate certainly appears to confirm what the folks in Albuquerque had been preaching last fall: the Lobos aren't a team to sleep on. Best thing to take away from Tucson for coach Glen Millican? His squad was six under on the final five holes as a team in the final round. That's how you beat the No. 1 team in the country.
Next event: John Burns Intercollegiate, Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer Course), Kahuku, Hawaii, Feb. 20-22

Texas logo.jpeg4. Texas (4)
No Spieth, no Hossler, no problem. Seriously, while both of those  players would obviously have given the Longhorns more depth as they attempt to defend their NCAA title this spring, there is more than enough talent still in Austin with Julio Vegas, Cody Gribble, Toni Hakula and Brandon Stone to get the job done.    
Spring opener: Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa Kings GC, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, Feb. 6-8

Washington 2012-13.jpeg5. Washington (5)
If there's a team that I wonder about picking up its momentum from the fall, for some reason it's the Huskies, which is a bit counter-intuitive since Matt Thurmond seems to get his teams to play better in the spring than the fall. But just in case we've all forgotten how well the trio of Chris Williams, Cheng-Tsung Pan and Trevor Simsby played, let me remind you: 11 collective starts, nine top-five finishes.
Spring opener: Amer Ari Invitational, Waikoloa Kings GC, Kohala Coast, Hawaii, Feb. 6-8

Alabama logo.gif1. Alabama (1)
Defending NCAA champions. A roster with two of the most talented players in the women's game with Stephanie Meadow and Jennifer Kirby. A great motivator in Mic Potter. A freshman with break-out potential in Emma Talley. What part of this equation doesn't add up?
Spring opener: Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar CC, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Feb. 10-12

Florida logo.gif2. Florida (4)
Sure the tournament had only four other teams, none of whom were in the top 25 of the latest Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll. But the Gators still came out and won their spring opener last week, a nine-stroke victory at the Florida Challenge. In the process they extended their streak of tournaments in which a UF player was medalist to five with Camilla Hedberg claiming a share of the individual title. Hard not to be impressed with the folks in Gainesville.     
Next event: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13

USC logo.gif3. USC (3)
The Trojans hung tough with a five-player roster this past fall, finishing first in the Golf World/WGCA poll to close out the semester. Now they've got mid-season reinforcements with freshman Annie Park and Ellie Chai joining the team and making their debuts (as individuals) at this week's Lady Bulldog Invitational. Hard to consider USC a sleeper pick, but they could be sneaky good this spring.
Spring opener: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13

North Carolina logo 2008-09.gif4. North Carolina (2)
OK Lady Tar Heels ... the benefit of the doubt that I've given you for winning the Liz Murphey/Fall Preview expires some time in February. Now it's time to see what kind of work you all put in during the winter break and whether you're ready to be a consistent contender.
Spring opener: UCF Challenge, Red Tail GC, Sorrento, Fla., Feb. 10-12

Washington 2012-13.jpeg5. Washington (5)
Take a minute to read about some of the things the Huskies were working on recently to continue the impressive improvement they made on the course this fall. Outside the box? Heck it totally reconstructs the box. Whether it translates on the course remains to be seen, but you've got to like the different ways that coaches are trying to teach their players.
Spring opener: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes, Calif., Feb. 11-13

1, 3
Number of schools in the last five years that claimed the NCAA women's and men's Division I championship, respectively, who started the spring season with a victory. The only women's team to do it was Arizona State in 2009, winning the Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge. On the men's side, Texas in 2012, Augusta State in 2010 and Texas A&M in 2009 all won out of the spring gate.

2012: Alabama, 4th at the Allstate Sugar Bowl
2011: UCLA, 3rd at Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge
2010: Purdue, 2nd at Lady Puerto Rico
2009: Arizona State, Win at Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge
2008: USC, 3rd at Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge

2012: Texas, Win at Amer Ari Invitational
2011: Augusta State, 3rd at The Battle at the Beach
2010: Augusta State, Win at Seahawk Invitational
2009: Texas A&M, Win at John Burns Intercollegiate
2008: UCLA, 3rd at Ping-Arizona Intercollegiate

Tweet of the Week (Ericka Schneider) 2-1-jpg
—Mississippi senior Ericka Schneider. I like where her head's at to start the spring season.

When I turned 40 in 2011, I really didn't feel like I was getting old. But when I heard that Jalen Rose (who I covered with the Fab Five while I was in college) turned 40 this past week, now that made me feel old.       

* The headlines for TCU were mixed from the Arizona Intercollegiate despite the Horned Frogs finishing second in the tournament and besting No. 1 ranked California by a stroke. Bill Montigel's squad would have been the team champion if freshman Paul Barjon's final-round 70 at Vistoso GC counted. But his score was tossed out when he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, forcing the team to count a 73 instead and thus finishing two strokes back of New Mexico rather than one stroke ahead. It's frustrating I'm sure for the team, but a lesson that no doubt will keep this group from ever having it happen again.

Julian Brun action.jpegThe more important thing to take away for TCU fans, however, is that Julien Brun looks to be on the verge of a monster spring season. The sophomore from France finished T-3 for the tournament, three back of co-medalists Joel Stalter and Michael Kim of Cal. It was the ninth top-five finish for Brun, a 20-year-old from France, in 15th college starts (he has won four times and was runner-up at NCAAs in 2012). Meanwhile, his six-under 207 in the desert dropped his career scoring average to 70.5.

Remember, too, Brun (right) won a professional event on the Challenge Tour last fall in his home country but opted to stay in school rather than turn pro and accept membership on the Challenge Tour. That demonstrates the commitment he has as the spring semester begins.

What's also interesting is that Brun will have an awful lot of events to play in from now to June. TCU, which only played twice last fall, has eight stroke-play tournaments on the schedule and one dual match with Georgia Tech before the Big 12 Championship in April. It was a point that was raised during a Google Hangout I participated in with Drew Harris and Dustin Roberts regarding players in contention for the Ben Hogan Award (click here to link to the Hangout). There will be plenty of opportunities for Brun to shine.

SeaBest Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Feb. 4-5
Host: Jacksonville
Defending champion: Florida (+20/884) by 15 strokes over Liberty; Florida's T.J. Vogel (E/216) by two strokes over East Carolina's Harold Varner and East Tennessee State's Rhys Enoch
Field: Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Francis Marion, Georgia State, Jacksonville, Jacksonville State, Old Dominion, Tennessee, Texas A&M, USC Upstate, Winthrop, Wofford
Skinny: Fourth year of the event where collegians get to see how their game stacks up on the venue for the PGA Tour's Players Championship

Rice Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Westwood GC, Houston
Feb. 4-5
Host: Rice
Defending champion: Northwestern (-2/862) by four strokes over Houston; New Mexico State's Zachery Fullerton (-6/210) in playoff over Norhwestern's Eric Chun
Field: Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Houston, Houston Baptist, Louisiana-Monroe, McNeese State, Missouri State, UM-Kansas City, Nicholls State, North Dakota State, Rice, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin State, Texas-Pan American, UTSA
Skinny: Event moved up three weeks on the calendar from 2012, forcing defending champions to have to miss the tournament as Northwestern is committed to opening spring season at Big Ten Match Play tournament.

Amer Ari Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Waikoloa Kings GC, Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Feb. 6-8
Host: Hawaii-Hilo
Defending champion: Texas (-30/834) by five strokes over USC; USC's Jeffrey Kang (-11/205) in playoff over Texas' Jordan Spieth
Field: Arizona State, Auburn, Colorado, CSU-Stanislaus, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Hawaii-Hilo, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, San Jose State, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UCLA, UC Davis, USC, Washington
Skinny: The tournament is the traditional spring opener for many top programs. Five of the top 10 teams in the final fall Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll are playing (Texas, UCLA, Washington, USC and Georgia Tech).

Hurricane Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Deering Bay Yacht & CC, Miami
Feb. 4-5
Host: Miami (Fla.)
Field: Baylor, Boston College, Campbell, Daytona State, Florida Gulf Coast, Georgetown, Iowa, James Madison, Longwood, Mercer, Miami (Fla.), Middle Tennessee State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Oral Roberts, Texas State
Skinny: Oklahoma State on paper is the easy favorite here, but this could be an interesting way for an underrated Texas State squad to get a little more attention if it can pull off an upset.
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