COLLEGE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Michael Kim, California
The sophomore went wire-to-wire to claim medalist honors at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, his first college victory, while propelling the Golden Bears to their fifth team title of the fall.
After shooting an opening-round 67 at Isleworth CC in Windermere, Fla., Kim posted a second-round 72 to take a three-stroke lead into the final 18 holes. He maintain his advantage, although things got tight during the back nine. A three-shot lead with three holes to play dwindled to just one stroke after back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes. But Kim hit the 18th green in regulation from a fairway bunker 220 yards from the hole and two-putted from 20 feet for par to secure the individual title (over Alabama's Justin Thomas and New Mexico's James Erkenbeck) with a closing 73 and a four-under 212 total.
"I'm just really excited to win five in a row as a team and also my first college event," Kim said afterward.
Jon Rahm Rodriguez, Arizona State—Scores of 65 and 67 in the final two rounds of the Bill Cullum Invitational gave the freshman a three-stroke victory (12-under 204), making him the first Sun Devil rookie to win an individual title since 2008.
Elizabeth Tong, Indiana
For the second time this fall, the sophomore from Ontario, Canada, earned medalist honors, sharing the individual title at the Las Vegas Collegiate Shootout with Mississippi State's Ally McDonald after the pair shot two-under 214s at Stallion Mountain GC in Las Vegas.
During the final round, Tong posted a bogey-free 68, her low round of the 2012-13 season. Her score helped the Hoosiers grab the team title in the tournament, the squad's second victory of the fall semester, after starting the day in third place behind eventual runner-up UCF and host UNLV. IU shot 30-over 894 to outpace the Golden Knights by three strokes and the Running Rebels by four.
Marion Duvernay, Chattanooga
The junior from France won her first college title at the Lady Paladin Invitational with a three-over 219, tying her career best 54-hole score. She also helped the Lady Mocs claim the team title.
With a fifth victory in five starts after its triumph this week at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, California has definitively moved ... wait for it ... to the head of the class in men's college golf.
Conversely after eight weeks of competition and dozens of meaningful tournaments, there is no such clarity in the women's game. Not even close. Think of the absolutely opposite of clarity, and that's what we've got brewing.
* Alabama was the preseason No. 1 in the Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll.
* Washington and Arizona have held the top spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin polls.
* Duke jumped atop the coaches' poll last month—the next poll will be released next Wednesday. Golfstat currently has USC leading the pack.
* Personally, I've had Florida and North Carolina atop my Fab Five at times over the last few weeks. I'm likely forgetting somebody else, which just goes to show you how crazy it's been.
So many choices, so little consensus.
This coming week (in theory) could provide some help in figuring out what school has the top squad. The Landfall Tradition and the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational are being held and will host a combined 12 of the top 25 in the Golf World/WGCA poll—including seven of the top 10—in the last big weekend of action for the fall season.
More than likely, however, we're going to enter the winter break more confused about who the key figures in the 2012-13 national championship race will be than when we began the fall semester (for instance, what do we make of UCLA, the preseason No. 2 squad that didn't have a top-five finish all fall?).
Mind you, this confusion isn't necessarily a bad thing. The more teams in the mix, the more exciting the chase might actually become. If nothing else, it provides an interesting storyline as the first half of the college season comes to an end.
COLLEGE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ollie Schniederjans, Georgia Tech
The sophomore's performance over the final three holes at the GC of Georgia Sunday helped the Yellow Jackets rally to defeat defending champion UCLA by one stroke at the U.S. Collegiate Championship. A birdie on the 16th, after hitting his approach to one foot, was followed by a par save on the 17th after he hit his tee shot on the long par-3 into a hazard. He then reached the par-5 18th in two when he hit a 5-iron from 220 yards to three feet. When he converted the eagle putt, it gave him a final round 71 and the host school the victory.
"I knew I needed birdie to tie and eagle to win," said Schniederjans, who finished T-7 individually, eight strokes back of medalist Patrick Rodgers of Stanford (seven-under 209). "Knowing that and with all those people out there watching, the last group out there and everybody watching, that was the coolest hole I've ever played. I was in between clubs [with the second shot], and I went with the longer club because I wanted to hit a cut shot in there. I didn't' hit it exactly like I drew it up, but when I hit it, I knew it was going to end up perfect."
Honorable mention: Justin Thomas, Alabama—In just his 15 career start, the sophomore claimed his fifth career victory (tying Alabama's school record) when he won the Jerry Pate National Collegiate with a two-under 208, one stroke over Auburn's Michael Johnson.
Kyung Kim, USC
After opening with a one-over 72 at the Stanford Intercollegiate, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links champion closed with rounds of 66-68 at Stanford GC to win her first college title.
The freshman from Chandler, Ariz., defeated defending individual champion SooBin Kim of Washington by three strokes (even with a bogey on the last hole) and also helped the Trojans claim the team title by four strokes over Washington and 11 shots clear of third place Stanford.
Honorable mention: Chirapat Jao-Javanil, Oklahoma—The junior claimed her first victory since winning the NCAA title in May, shooting a final-round 68 to take the Susie Maxwell Berning Classic title by two strokes over Notre Dame's Lindsey Weaver and Redlands CC's Sarah Schober.
A year ago I pleaded how the powers that be in college golf needed to remedy one of the biggest blights in the sport: the overlap of the U.S. Collegiate Championship and the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational.
The good news? This year's two Super Bowls—10 of the top 25 teams in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll are in the field at U.S. Collegiate while eight of the top 25 are competing in Isleworth—are not on the exact same days.
The could-be better news? The first day of the Isleworth event is the same day as the last round of the USCC, effectively causing them to again unnecessarily step on each other's toes.
Perhaps I need to get over it, and I will for the next few minutes to celebrate the two tournaments. Each affair is an extremely well-run event that treats its competitors like they are tour pros, complete with sky boxes, caddies, graft that puts Santa to shame.*
* As an aside, I've found this year's Tweeting about the courtesy cars at the U.S. Collegiate particularly amusing/entertaining/amazing.
Additionally, both are played on a challenging courses that amplifies the accomplishment of winning the team and individual title. Those who emerge from this week's events will have earned any of the hardware they bring home.
Indeed, the two tournaments are all that's great about college golf and will be ones that I'm glued to via Golfstat this weekend. But wouldn't it be better for everybody if there was a little more separation between them?
A summer's worth of success was rewarded for Matthew NeSmith and Ariya Jutanugarn when the pair got word that they had been named the AJGA's Rolex Boys and Girls players of the year.
Both the 19-year-old NeSmith, a freshman now at South Carolina, and the 16-year-old Jutanugarn, a native of Thailand who became the fifth girl to repeat as POY, showed flashes of dominance in 2012. Before closing out his junior career in the summer, NeSmith won three AJGA invitational titles, winning at the Polo Golf Junior Classic, the FJ Invitational and the Rolex Tournament of Champions. Additionally he took top honors at the Jones Cup Junior.
Similarly, Jutanugarn won the Thunderbird International Junior and the Rolex Girls Junior Championship on the AJGA circuit while also claiming the Junior PGA Championship. When she wasn't impressing in the junior arena, she was handling the competition at the women's amateur level, winning the Women's Western and Canadian Amateur titles. Rounding out her resume was semifinal appearances at the U.S. Girls' Junior and U.S. Women's Amateur and a T-22 finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, earning her low amateur honors in the LPGA's first major of the year.
NeSmith and Jutanugarn will receive their awards Nov. 18 during the AJGA Junior All-American Banquet at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
For a list of past winners, click here.
COLLEGE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Trevor Simsby, Washington
The junior from Carlsbad, Calif., was tied for fifth entering the final round of the Pac-12 Preview at Pumpkin Ridge's Witch Hollow course, but with a closing six-under 66 he claimed the individual title, his first with the Huskies. Simsby's 11-under 205 outpaced Arizona State's Jon Rahm Rodriguez by one stroke.
"The biggest thing this tournament shows is how awesome we are at the top of our lineup," "Trevor Simsby just won what is the equivalent of the Pac-12 championship and he is our No. 3 guy. Everybody knows how good Chris [Williams] and [Cheng-Tsung] Pan are, but the way Trevor is playing you can start talking about the big three instead of the big two."
Simsby made eight birdies in an opening-round 69, but then played his final two rounds without a bogey, posting a 70-66 finish.
Grant Milner, Memphis—With 17 birdies in his three rounds at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, the junior won his first college tournament with a 10-under 206 total at Blackthorn Club in Jonesborough, Tenn.
SooBin Kim, Washington
An 82 during a team qualifier for the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, on the very same course that the tournament was going to be held (Sahalee CC), cost the sophomore a spot in the starting five in the Huskies home tournament. But the sophomore from South Korea made amends when she shot a 11-under 205 while playing as an individual at the event, winning medalist honors by a record-setting 12 strokes. Her Huskie teammates showed their mettle as well, winning the team title for the first time in the event's 31-year history even with Kim not counting to the team score.
"It was really devastating to shoot 82 and not make the team," Kim said. "The coaches were with me after the round comforting me. They still gave me the courage to play—more like they believed in me. They wanted me to learn from this experience and turn it around and just work on my game. [The whole week] made me stronger, and I can never exchange this experience for anything."
It was Kim's second college title since arriving in Seattle in the fall of 2011.
Isabelle Lendl, Florida—The senior notched her second straight individual victory of the season with a three-stroke victory at the Ruth's Chris Tar Heel Invitational, posting a six-under 210 with a final-round 69 at the UNC Finley Course in Chapel Hill, N.C.
There are any number of reasons for California men's coach Steve Desimone to be downright giddy about how the 2012-13 season has started. Most pundits, including yours truly, thought the Golden Bears were going to be among the top teams in the country, given how the program reached the NCAA Final Four a year ago and that everybody from that team was back this time around (notably Max Homa and Brandon Hagy), plus U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Weaver was back after coming off a redshirt season.
What has to make the GCAA Hall of Fame coach most pleased, however, about winning the title at the Gopher Invitational, sharing the title at the Ping/Golfweek Preview and then walking off with win No. 3 in the young season last week at the Pac-12 Preview, is not just the impressive play on the course. No, it's the way his squad has handled expectations as the group eyes a fourth straight win when it hosts the Alister MacKenzie Invitational this coming week.
This team isn't one that was going to be sneaking up on anybody, like say the 2004 Cal squad that won the NCAA title. It's a group that before their van even left the parking lot at Riviera CC last spring after losing to Alabama in the NCAA semifinals was already talking about what a big year 2012-13 could be. Homa, Hagy, Weaver, et al. have completely embraced the fact that they've got potentially the best team ever assembled in Berkeley, helping lift them to the No. 1 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Golf men's coaches' poll.
What Desimone has that his coaching brethren are likely to be most jealous of is a deep, balanced roster. Sure there are the name players at the top, but it's the likes of Michael Kim, Joel Stalter and Walker Huddy rounding out the lineup that has to make him feel good, considering each has the potential to contend individually at any given tournament. This allows everybody to play more aggressively because they all know that their teammates have their back.
It showed at Pumpkin Ridge last week, where Kim (T-6) and Stalter (T-8) were the Golden Bears with top-10 finishes, followed by Hagy and Homa (T-14) while Weaver took the fifth spot on the team but still finished T-22. Not surprisingly Cal came away with a seven- strokes triumph on Washington.
"This was really quite a victory," Desimone said afterward. "It was a tremendous team effort in a great field. We certainly have earned our No. 1 ranking. We proved that yesterday and then again today, but it's only October 9 and we have a long way to go until we get to late May and early June. But we certainly like the way things have shaped up thus far."
Desimone said it all right there. It's early, and much can happen between now and the postseason. But at this point in time, he can feel comfortable knowing he has a team that isn't going to flinch at the thought of being the best team in the country.
On the contrary, the Golden Bears appear to be thriving on it.
GOLF WORLD COLLEGE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Patrick Rodgers, Stanford
The first-team All-American got his sophomore season off to a familiar start when he defended his title at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, earning his third college title in 13 starts. Rodgers birdied three of his first seven holes on the North course en route to a closing 67 and a three-under 207 total, five strokes clear of five players.
"The conditions were tough in the final round and the guys hung in there," said Stanford coach Conrad Ray. "It was a very impressive round by Patrick to grab the individual title."
Rodgers was the only golfer to break par in two different rounds. His three-day score was almost 16 strokes better than the average for the entire 70 player field.
Nathan Anderson, North Dakota State—The senior made the Jackrabbit Invitational a family affair when he claimed medalist honors in the men's event with a two-over 212 at Minnehaha CC as sister Amy won the women's tournament. While Amy now has 16 individual victories in her career, Nathan earned his second title in three starts this fall.
Mary Michael Maggio, Texas A&M
Three back-nine birdies and an eagle on the 17th hole helped the senior shoot a closing 67 and rally from 15th place to earn medalist honors at the Liz Murphey Fall Preview. Her three-under 213 was one better than North Carolina's Casey Grice and allowed Maggio, the 2012 Big 12 medalist, to claim her second career college victory.
Melanie White, SMU—A second-round 65 propelled the senior to a tournament-record eight-under 208 and a six-stroke win at the Johnie Imes Invitational. Her performance also helped the Mustangs claim the team title.
Regretfully I will not be in attendance when the Liz Murphey Fall Preview begins tomorrow at the University of Georgia GC. It's hard not to think that this will be the best tournament of the fall season, at least on paper. The level of competition is definitely tops thus far and will be until the spring semester rolls around.
What makes this event even more compelling, though, in my mind is that it potentially will set the tone for many of the country's top programs moving forward in 2012-13, providing an honest assessment of where they are early in the season and what they must do to get to where they want to be come next spring. Think about what the event means for teams like Alabama and UCLA, high-profile squads that have gotten off to slow starts. Certainly no one thinks they won't get things turned around at some point during the regular season, but if they should stumble again this week, does that affect their psyche?
Same holds for Auburn, Duke, USC and Virginia. And what about Georgia ... can the home course advantage help the Bulldogs rise up the leader board, perhaps a little higher than they might otherwise be able to stretch? What might that do for their confidence?
For those in the field there's the bonus of getting an early look at the UGa course is a plus for the participants, but competing against a field with 14 of the top 25 teams in the most recent Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll. But I'm not sure that's the biggest benefit for coaches with teams competing this week in Athens. It's getting an early read on your squads mental state that is the true prize on the line.
The best part about the men's college golf season to date is the fact that the teams everybody expected to be the top contenders started the season trying to make a statement. It's why you'll see with the newest Golf World/Nike Golf men's Division I coaches' poll that all the schools ranked in the top five of the Sept. 3 preseason poll are still in the top five in the newest edition.
That said, there has been a little movement right at the top:
For the first time since the resumption of the poll at the start of the 2001-02 season, California is ranked No. 1. The Bears opened with a victory at the Gopher Invitational and then shared the team title with Georgia Tech at the Ping/Golfweek Preview.
A few interesting points to take from this week's poll: