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The Syllabus: Spring flings

By Ryan Herrington

No matter where you look today, if you're a college golf fan you've got to have a smile on your face. This weekend has one of the most impressive slates of tournaments, both men and women, we've had for any individual week this spring if not the entire 2012-13 season.

It starts with the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, which as I wrote about in Golf World Preview has 11 of the top 13 teams in the latest Golf World/Nike Golf men's coaches poll competing as well as 14 of the 27 players named to the Ben Hogan Award watch list. Host UNLV has won the team title six times since 2002, when the event was moved to Southern Highlands, but can that trend counter the momentum that top-ranked California carries with it into Vegas? As I've previously noted, this is as close as you get in college golf to a major championship.

Simultaneously, the Bandon Dunes Championship is an intriguing event to follow, with No. 4 Washington being the headliner. The Huskies are in an interesting spot as the clear favorite. How they handle situation will provide valuable insight into just how strong a team Matt Thurmond has in Seattle. 

The women, meanwhile, have a counterpunch for both those events.
The Darius Rucker Intercollegiate will have seven of the top 25 teams in the Golf World/WGCA women's coaches' poll traveling to Hilton Head including four of the top 10, including defending NCAA champ Alabama. The event ranked in the top five toughest at the start of the spring, not bad for a tournament in just its second year of existence.

Suffice it to say, with the conference championship season only a month away, we're at the point in the spring where schools want to see just what parts of their games need work if they hope to contend for the year's most important hardware. This week's events will provide many of the country's top 25 men's and women's programs the chance to do just that as they face one another in some intriguing tournaments.



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

Cal logo.gif1. California (Last week: 1)
Great gesture on the part of coach Steve Desimone to pay tribute to retiring Fresno State coach Mike Watney by taking his team to this week's Lexus Classic before heading to Vegas. Not quite so sporting, though, that the Golden Bears leveled the field, winning by 37 strokes to claim their seventh title (a school record) in eight starts.   
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 8-10
 
Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
Continuity doesn't seem to be an issue for the Crimson Tide as the team is bringing its fourth different starting five in six starts with them to Las Vegas with Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett, Scott Strohmeyer and Trey Mullinax.
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 8-10

Washington 2012-13.jpeg3. Washington (3)
The Huskies are one of just two of the top 13 teams in the latest Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll that will not be playing this weekend in Vegas. Bandon Dunes is a nice substitute, a tournament that Chris Williams used as a springboard last year. After winning there he finished no worse than T-12 in any college start the rest of the spring, save a T-21 at NCAAs. 
Next event: Bandon Dunes Championship, Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, Ore., March 8-10

UCLA logo 2008-09.gif4. UCLA (4)
As if playing in Las Vegas wasn't enough of a challenge, five Bruins will also head to Bandon Dunes to compete individually in the tournament there. Talk about your doubly exciting weekends.
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 8-10

New Mexico logo.gif5. New Mexico (5)
The Lobos bring some confidence with them as they arrive in Vegas, having defeated several of the schools competing at Southern Highlands GC already this season, including No. 1 ranked California. There shouldn't be an intimidation factor for Glen Millican's boys. 
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 8-10


Women
USC logo.gif1. USC (1)
The Trojans only look to be gaining confidence, and rightfully so after the squad's latest triumph where it overcame an eight-stroke final-round deficit over UCLA to win the Bruin Wave Invitational. Freshman Annie Park won her first individual title since arriving in January, and looks like the most valuable mid-season addition to a team's roster since Carlota Ciganda joined Arizona State midway through their 2008-09 campaign, when the Sun Devils went on to win the NCAA title.      
Next event: SDSU Farms Invitational, The Farms of Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., March 31-April 2

Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (2)
It's redemption time for the Crimson Tide after its frustrating performance at the Sugar Bowl. Good memories should surface at Long Cove, the team having claimed the title during last year's rain-shortened inaugural edition of the event.
Next event: Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island, S.C, March 8-10

UCLA logo 2008-09.gif3. UCLA (3)
It wasn't the finish Bruins' fans would have wanted, having fallen to rival USC to finish second at the Bruin Wave Invite after holding an eight-stroke lead entering the final round, but there's no denying that Carrie Forsyth's team has erased all ties to the horrendous fall semester and has this group ready to challenge for the Pac-12 title if not more.
Next event: Hawaii Spring Invitational, Kapalua Bay Course, Maui, Hawaii, March 25-27

Florida logo.gif4. Florida (4)
Why should you like the Gators? Look at some of their stats. According to Golfstat, the team averages 82.4 percent fairways hit and 70.4 percent greens in regulation. If they focus on their short game over the next few weeks, they will make for a great dark horse come the postseason.         
Next event: SunTrust Gator Invitational, Mark Bostick GC at U. of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., March 15-17

Duke logo.gif5. Duke (5)
One of the storylines I'm curious about between now and the end of the season is how sentimentality impacts three-time first-team All-American Lindy Duncan. The senior's college career has been extremely impressive. Does knowing the end is near motivate her or does it become a distraction? I'm guessing it's the former.
Next event: Bryan National Collegiate, Bryan Park GC (Champions), Greensboro, N.C., March 29-31



STAT OF THE WEEK
4.12
Difference in the average individual score for the six California Golden Bears who competed in the Fresno State Lexus Golf Classic at Belmont CC compared to the other 98 players in the field.

According to Golfstat, the overall individual stroke average for the event was 73.71.

California's six players averaged 69.83 (Michael Kim, -16/200; Brandon Hagy, -10/206; Michael Weaver, -9/207; Joel Stalter, -6/210; Max Homa, -1/215 and James Yoon, +3/219)

Take out California's scores for the overall field, and the rest of the competitors shot an average of 73.95.

Kim, Hagy and Weaver finished 1-2-3 individually. Fourth-place finisher Allen Jun of UC Irvine was eight under for 54 holes.



TWEET OF THE WEEK
Tweet of the week 3-8-2013 (Rucker).jpg—Music star Darius Rucker, who held a private concert last night for the golfers competing in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. Suffice it to say, this is a gratuitous Darius Rucker tweet seeing that it's not often I can have a celebrity be the college golf tweet of the week. Meanwhile, I'll Humblebrag here and mention I've interviewed Rucker previously, as he was the subject of a Golf World "My Town" for Myrtle Beach in August 2010.



RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Heard some people say that during Lent you can have the thing that you're giving up on Sundays. I'm not one of those people but I might change my tune if somebody puts a Diet Pepsi in front of me while I'm watching the final round of the WGC event this weekend. #cravingsoda


WHAT TO WATCH FOR
* Considering that every other men's college program is being overshadowed by California this season, if you haven't been paying attention to Auburn of late no one would hold it against you. Yet when the Tigers compete in their home event, the Tiger Invitational at the start of this coming week, Nick Clinard's team has a chance to do something that no Auburn squad has done since 1977*: win three straight tournament titles.

Auburn was victorious at the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate last month and then the Samford Intercollegiate last week. The team is the highest ranked school in the field at Grand National, making them the favorite. In 1977 the Tigers actually won four straight: the Furman Invitational, the Southern Junior-Senior, the Callaway Cup and the Alabama Invitational.

Five times since 1977 the team has won two in a row only to be denied a third straight team title—1979, 1991-92, 1996-97, 1999-2000, and 2001-02. The closest the Tigers came to a third straight win was the second-place finishes at the SEC Championship in 1997 and 2000.

And what happens if the Tigers aren't victorious at Grand National? Look for them to step up at their next event, the Hootie at Bulls Bay. Four of the five times that Auburn failed to win a third tournament in a row the team proceeded to win their next start.

* all stats are courtesy of the Auburn media guide, which has complete results as far back as the 1979 season and then the tournament histories get a little thinner.
  


TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS
MEN
Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Southern Highlands GC, Las Vegas
March 8-10
Host: UNLV
Defending champion: UNLV (+8/872) by one stroke over California; UNLV's Blake Biddle (-4/212) by two strokes over UCLA's Pontus Widegren and Texas A&M's Tyler Dunlap
Field: Alabama, California, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, UNLV, USC
Skinny: At the risk of hyperbole, this event should be worth points on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Bandon Dunes Championship
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Bandon Dunes Resort (Old Macdonald), Bandon, Ore.
March 8-10
Host: Gonzaga
Defending champion: Washington and Long Beach State (+5/857) tied for team title; Washington's Chris Williams (-9/204) by six strokes over Long Beach State's Kevin Lim
Field: Colorado, CSU Northridge, Fresno State, Gonzaga, Long Beach State, UM-Kansas City, Northern Colorado, Oregon, Pacific, San Jose State, Santa Clara, SMU, UC Davis, UCLA, UNC Wilmington, Utah Valley, Washington, Washington State
Skinny: If there is a cooler place in the U.S. to play golf, I haven't found it yet. I'm guessing even cleaning bathrooms is better at Bandon Dunes. This year they're playing on the Old Macdonald course after playing Bandon Trails in 2012.

Pinehurst Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Pinehurst Resort (No. 2/No. 6), Pinehurst, N.C.
March 10-11
Defending champion: Old Dominion (+19/871) by four strokes over Eastern Kentucky; Villanova's Michael Kania (-3/210) by six strokes over Old Dominion's Garth McGee and Ball State's Tyler Merkel
Field: Ball State, Belmont, Campbell, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Ohio, Old Dominion, Richmond, Toledo, UNC Greensboro, VCU, Villanova, Winthrop, Xavier
Skinny: This year the tournament will use the No. 6 course for the first and third round and the No. 2 course for the second round.

Tiger Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
RTJ Golf Trail-Grand National GC, Opelika, Ala.
March 11-12
Host: Auburn
Defending champion: New event
Field: Auburn, Charlotte, Chattanooga, East Carolina, Houston, Kennesaw State, Kentucky, Memphis, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Samford, South Alabama, Troy, Wake Forest, Yale
Skinny: A Tiger win would make four in the 2012-13 season, the most for the school since it won five titles during the 1996-97 campaign.

General Jim Hackler Championship
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
TPC Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, S.C.
March 11-12
Host: Coastal Carolina
Defending champion: North Florida (+20/872) by two strokes over East Carolina; North Florida's Sean Dale (-1/212) by three strokes over Virginia's Ben Kohles, East Tennessee State's Rhys Enoch and East Carolina's Ryan Eibner
Field: Arkansas, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Gardner-Webb, Kent State, Lamar, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee, UTEP
Skinny: Just once in the first 11 years of the event have the host Chanticleers won the team title and never has a Coastal player claimed medalist honors.

Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
San Diego CC, Chula Vista, Calif.
March 11-12
Host: San Diego/San Diego State
Defending champion: Washington (+6/870) by seven strokes over USC; San Diego's Alex Ching (-2/214) by one stroke over Tennessee's Garrick Porteous
Field: Arizona, Arizona State, CSU San Marcos, Missouri, Louisville, Oregon State, Pepperdine, Point Loma Nazarene, San Diego, San Diego State, TCU, Texas-Arlington, Texas Tech, Utah
Skinny: Individual race might actually more entertaining than the team clash with TCU's Julien Brun and Missouri's Jace Long in the field having combined for six titles in 2012-13.


WOMEN
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island
March 8-10
Host: South Carolina
Defending champion: Alabama (+3/571) by 11 strokes over North Carolina; Alabama's Stephanie Meadow (-5/137) by three strokes over Alabama's Brooke Pancake
Field: Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Furman, Georgia, LSU, North Carolina, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, UCF, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest
Skinny: Having Rucker's name on the tournament is obvious a nice coup but playing at Long Cove Club, a perennial Golf Digest America's 100 Greatest Golf Course, is equally impressive.

Clover Cup
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Longbow CC, Mesa, Ariz.
March 8-10
Host: Notre Dame
Defending champion: Colorado (-9/855) by 31 strokes over Oklahoma; Colorado's Jessica Wallace (-5/211) by two strokes over Colorado's Alex Stewart
Field: Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida International, Georgetown, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, SMU, Texas Tech, Tulsa
Skinny: The Fighting Irish are facing only their second Big East opponent of the season this weekend in Georgetown. The other was USF in the fall.

JMU Eagle Landing Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Eagle Landing GC, Orange Park, Fla.
March 8-10
Host: James Madison
Defending champion: USF (+19/883) by three strokes over Maryland; Campbell's Kaylin Yost (-1/215) by one stroke over Stetson's Alex Buelow, Maryland's Juliet Vongphoumy and USF's Shena Yang
Field: Campbell, Chattanooga, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Elon, Georgia State, Jacksonville, James Madison, Kennesaw State, Mississippi State, Morehead State, North Florida, Old Dominion, Samford, Stetson, UNC Wilmington, Western Carolina
Skinny: This is the fifth year that the Dukes have hosted the event in Florida.

Purdue Mount Vintage Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Mount Vintage Plantation, North Augusta, S.C.
March 9-10
Host: Purdue
Defending champion: New event
Field: Augusta State, Coastal Carolina, Delaware, Iowa State, IUPUI, Purdue
Skinny: The rain-shortened Landfall Tradition in the fall gave the Boilermakers two extra days to play with on their spring schedule, so Devon Brouse threw the event together since his team was already going to be spending their spring break in the Augusta area playing in Augusta State's home event next week.

Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Kaneohe Klipper GC, Honolulu
March 12-13
Host: Hawaii
Defending champion: Texas A&M (+37/901) by four strokes over UC Davis; Idaho's Kayla Morellaro (+5/221) by one stroke over Gonzaga's Alice Kim and Coastal Carolina's Brittany Henderson
Field: Arizona, Central Connecticut State, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific, Hawaii-Hilo, Idaho, Illinois State, Lipscomb, Louisville, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio State, San Francisco, Seattle, UTEP, Washington State
Skinny: I admittedly have not done all the fact-checking on this, but if Central Connecticut State should somehow win this event (the Blue Devils are No. 212 in the Golfstat ranking), I believe this might be the farthest any team champion might have won away from home in the history of college golf (New Britain, Conn., to Honolulu is more than 5,000 miles).

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