BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Joe David, Mississippi
Since the 22-year-old from Madison, Tenn., arrived in Oxford in the fall of 2008 he has been among the longest players in college golf—as his SEC rivals will be quick to attest. And his ball-striking skills have also been considered good enough to make a future on the PGA Tour seem reasonable. But it's only recently that David finally started to shore up his short-game, specifically his putting, and allow himself to take the next step in his development.
In part David's improvement can be attributed to playing alongside first-team All-American Jonathan Randolph the past three seasons with the Rebels. Randolph's short game was the envy of most college golfers. "At times, that kind of humbled [David], just to see how good somebody could be on the greens," said Ole Miss coach Ernest Ross, noting that David was ultimately guilted into putting in more work on the practice green.
The results are starting to come. According to Ross, David averaged 2.3 three-putts a round in his first three tournaments with Ole Miss during his freshman year. This fall his under par in the putting par category.
It's not just improved putting, however, that explains David's fall performance—three top-fives, five top-15s in five starts, 71.8 stroke average. Ross says that David's game has matured in total, making him a more consistent—and confident—golfer.
"He's gotten smarter," Ross says. "He doesn't swing all out on every shot. He's learned to throttle back and control his trajectory and spin [the ball] a little better. I think three years of college golf experience has paid off."
Joakim Mikkelson, Baylor
Steady progress and dependability are all fans of the Bears' golf team have seen from the 21-year-old from Norway, a quarterfinalist at the British Amateur this past summer, in his three years in Waco. As a freshman, his rounds counted 90.1 percent of the time toward the team score. As a sophomore, he won his first individual title (the Border Olympics) and was a first-team All-Big 12 honoree. As a junior, he broke Baylor's 18-, 36- and 54-hole scoring marks with a 65, 133 and 203 scores at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic and became the first player in school history to be named to the GCAA Ping All-Central Region team for a second time. This fall, the senior had two top-five finishes (boosting his career total to 10) and four top-10s (for 19 in 43 starts) while sporting a 71.27 average.
Charlotte Lorentzen, Georgia State
You can hardly turn a page in the Colonial Athletic Association record book without seeing the name of the 21-year-old from Denmark, who was the CAA rookie of the year in 2009 and the player of the year in 2010 and 2011. League officials might as well save themselves some time and just give her the 2012 award right now considering the fall semester she had: two wins (UNCG Starmount, Lady Paladin) and four top-10s in four starts. And in case you aren't already jealous enough of the journalism major, she's also been the CAA scholar-athlete of the year twice as well.
"Charlotte is our rock," said Georgia State women's coach Cathy Mant last spring. "She is a very determined player who works meticulously at improvement. She has something specific to work on every week and that keeps her motivated and engaged. She sets a terrific example for the rest of the team because of her work ethic and time management."
Only four times in 90 career rounds have Lorentzen's scores not counted for the Panthers' team score.
Chirapat Jao-Javanik, Oklahoma
The Thai native affectionately known as "Ja" by her Sooner teammates broke Oklahoma's freshman scoring mark in 2010-11 with 73.82 average as she finished insider the top 15 in all but two of her 11 starts. Any worry of a sophomore slump evaporated this fall when she claimed medalist honors at the Golfweek Conference Challenge and posted three other top-20 finishes, including a T-8 in Las Vegas.
PLAYER YOU'LL HEAR PLENTY OF BY SEASON'S END
Dylan Frittelli, Texas
Dylan Frittelli was getting complacent. And it took his roommate calling him out to realize it.
After returning home with a few mediocre finishes last spring, the University of Texas golfer kept getting an earful from his ultra-competitive roommate. He brushed it off at first, but then it finally clicked.
"He would just always say to me, ‘C'mon man, what are you doing? You're Dylan Frittelli. That's not you.' " Frittelli recalled. "After a couple times that he said it, I just kind of started listening to him and said wait, 'That's actually true.'
"It was a nice little kick in the butt."
Fast forward to November, and Frittelli helped lead Texas to three fall victories this fall and the No. 1 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll, one of the most dominant fall semesters in recent memory. The senior from Pretoria, South Africa finished runner-up in three out of the Longhorns' four tournaments, and he has his roommate (former UT football kicker Travis Smith) to thank for his "re-dedication" in his game.
Coach John Fields knows the Longhorns are loaded with talent, but he calls Frittelli his "rock" in terms of commitment and work ethic.
"He's a different type of guy that you don't normally see in college golf," Fields says. "His level of maturity is beyond his years, but it's across the board and not just in one [area]. It's physically where he's at. So that's a good example for all of our guys, and shoot, for his coaches."
Frittelli started working with renowned instructor Chuck Cook last March, which he said has led him to practice with renewed intensity and purpose. Thanks to a different mindset on the greens, too, the 2010 Big 12 player of the year has seen the results paid off.
While he's disappointed with the three runner-up finishes, he's not letting the near-wins bother him. He knows he's now in a position to win each tournament with the added incentive of leading the Longhorns to a national championship this spring.
"Taking care of the small details really makes me feel like I'm on track," he said, "and that breeds confidence into my academics, into my golf and into everything. And when I bring that confidence into a tournament, that's when I play my best golf and I feel like I can basically beat anybody.
"And that's the way I like to play golf. You got to believe you're going to win the tournament before it even starts."
Thomas Pieters, Illinois
If there was any player who was likely more disappointed about the winter break coming when it did, it was the 19-year-old sophomore from Belgium. Pieters closed out the fall semester with a T-2 at the D.A. Weibring Invitational, then came back and won his first college title at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational at Muirfield Village. For good measure, he then made 13 birdies at the Spirit International while representing his home country, earning a gold medal for his individual performance.
Grace Na, Pepperdine
Kill you with kindness. That's Grace Na's philosophy, even if she's too nice to know it.
Indeed, opponents who've played against Na will tell you have much fun the 18-year-old from Alameda, Calif., is to be paired with. Never mind that when the round is over she's likely beaten them by at least three shots.
After finishing up high school a semester early in order to be able to enroll at Pepperdine last January, Na needed just one semester to secure both the West Coast Conference freshman of the year and player of the year honors. This fall, she continued the impressive play with a win at the Las Vegas Collegiate (after shooting an NCAA record tying nine-under 63 in the first round) and top-fives at the Golfweek Conference Challenge and Betsy Rawls).
In 12 rounds thus far in the 2011-12 season, Na has hit 89.9 percent of her fairways off the tee and 83.3 percent of her greens in regulation. And her 41 birdies puts her among the top 20 players in the country. If she can improve even slightly with her putting (she averages 1.92 putts per GIR), she could become a true darkhorse favorite at NCAAs this come spring.
Caroline Powers, Michigan State
If Purdue showed two seasons ago that a northern school can claim an NCAA team title, the Spartans top player has the potential to do the same individually. The 20-year-old from Bowling Green, Ohio, set the MSU single-season scoring record as a sophomore with a 73.53 average, only to finished up the fall of her junior year a few weeks ago with a 72.92. After claiming a home win at the Mary Fossum, Powers backed it up with a T-2 finish at the Lady Tar Heel and a T-4 at the Landfall Tradition.