As the cliche goes, time flies when you're having fun. Such was the case during the first half of the 2011-12 college season, with the fall semester seeming to race past quicker than you could say "But it just started."
Having reached the sport's annual intermission, it's only fitting to again review what we've seen through the first three months of the season and try to make an educated assessment about what we might see during the spring march toward the NCAA Championship.
With that, feast a few days before Thanksgiving on Golf World's seventh annual Mid-Season Award package, the usual compendium that recognizes the standout play we've seen thus far in this season and serves as a primer for what's to come when players tee it up again in late January.
Each day we'll reveal another "award" winner in men's and women's college golf, culminating with the Mid-Season All-American teams being unveiled on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
With that, let the fun begin by revealing our Biggest Surprises of the mid-season. __SURPRISE PLAYERS of the Mid-Season
Johannes Veerman, Texas A&M
This summer, the 19-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas transferred from Tulsa, where he posted a 74.3 average en route to being picked for the Conference USA All-Freshman team. Four top-20 finishes in 2010-11 suggested to Aggie coach J.T. Higgins that Veerman had some talent but didn't necessarily prepare him for the start his newcomer got off to this fall. In his first nine rounds with A&M, Veerman broke par eight times.
"He's pretty long [off the tee] but he had plays in control, which is impressive," Higgins said earlier this semester.
While posting a T-7 finish at the Lone Star and a T-9 at Royal Oaks, the highlight was his share of the individual title at the U.S. Collegiate along with Auburn's Dominic Bozzelli. It was a victory that Veerman wasn't even aware of until he had landed with the rest of the Aggies on their way back to College Station from Atlanta. A&M left GC of Georgia before the tournament was over in order to make their return flight, with Veerman a leader in the clubhouse but several top players still with golf remaining. Mid-flight, Veerman asked Higgins "Do you think I won?"
"I had a feeling he would claim at least a share of the title, which he did," Higgins said. "He played very solid. He's was the only person that was under par all three rounds."
Veerman's fall season closed with a modest T-26 finish at Amelia Island, but he still had a 71.42 average for the semester, the best on the team for anyone who played more than two events. With Jordan Russell and Cameron Peck also posting averages of 72.08 or better, the Aggies have a solid one-two-three punch for the rest of college golf to contend with.
Photo courtesy of the Texas A&M Sports Information Department
Honorable mention: T.J. Vogel, Florida
Similar to Veerman, Vogel transferred this summer, going east to Gainesville after two years at USC. Vogel's efforts for the Trojans were impressive (co-Pac-10 freshman of the year in 2010) if somewhat inconsistent, but with the Gators this fall he seems to have found his comfort zone. Three top-10s including runner-up at the Inverness Intercollegiate and no finish worse than T-15. On a squad that had to overcome the lose of several veteran players, Vogel is doing his part to fill in the gaps.
Giulia Molinaro, Arizona State
To describe Molinaro's first three years in Tempe as anything but successful would be misleading. The 21-year-old from Italy helped the Sun Devils claim the NCAA title in 2009 and had posted a 73.3 average prior to entering her senior year this fall. Still, she always seemed to be overshadowed by Carlota Ciganda, the Spaniard who arrived on campus the same month as Molinaro (January 2009) and compiled a standout resumes before leaving school early last spring.
Now the leader on a young but talented team, Molinaro, has made the most of being the go-to player on ASU's squad. A win at the Dale McNamara to start the 2011-12 season was followed by T-14 finishes in her next two starts and a T-7 at the Mercedes-Benz SEC/Pac-12 Challenge. Her 71.50 leads the squad and her three sub-70 rounds this fall are just one fewer than she had in her three previous seasons at ASU.
"She and Carlota are such good friends, but they have very different styles and approaches to the game," said ASU women's coach Melissa Luellen, noting that Ciganda was a grinder during practice while Molinaro prefers quality over quantity. "I think that Giulia always felt like she had to do the same things that Carlota did to play well. Possibly that Carlota isn't here every day has taken some pressure off of [Giulia]."
Additionally, Molinaro has done a better job this fall of not letting minor mistakes on the course derail her during. "In the past she's really ridden that roller coaster of high-low, high-low, in the round, and it's been challenging for her to manage," Luellen said. "She's doing a lot better job with her post-shot routine and managing her emotions."
Photo: Jason Wise
Honorable mention: Kelsey Vines, Oklahoma State
Another story of a transfer who wasted no time in her new environs. Vines moved from BYU to Oklahoma State, and jumped right atop the leader board as a Cowgirl, sharing medalist honors at the Windy City and finishing third at the Betsy Rawls. On a team with few expectations entering the 2011-12 season, Vines has helped show lift OSU into the top 10 in the Golf World/NGCA women's coaches poll.
SURPRISE TEAMS of the Mid-Season__
Razorback fans might disagree with calling the 2011-12 squad a surprise considering the success of the 2010-11 team (four wins, most since 1996-97, and an NCAA Championship berth) and the fact that four of the five starters (Sebastian Cappelen,Ethan Tracy,Josh Eure and Austin Cook) were back. Yet winning four times in their five starts this fall likely exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations for the folks in Fayetteville.
What coach Brad McMakin has going for him is a balanced squad with multiple players who can post low scores. Of the returning starters, Cook has the highest average at a respectable 73.13, with Tracy (71.87), Cappelen (72.4) and Eure (72.0) able to each carry the load when called upon. All have posted top-six finishes individually this fall, as has Arkansas' fifth-man, freshman Kolton Crawford.
Honorable mention:North Florida
Two wins and two third-place finishes in four starts this fall have many wondering if the Ospreys might be the 2011-12 version of Augusta State. Detractors sight a soft schedule, but coach Scott Schroeder's group did finish third at Isleworth beating four teams ranked in the Golf World/Nike Golf top 25. The return of Sean Dale (and his 70.92 average) after he redshirted in 2010-11 might turn out to be one of the season's more compelling stories should UNF keep
With a victory and three top-five finishes in their first four starts, and a spot in the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll for the first time in school history, the N.C. State women are off to the best start since coach Page Marsh took over the program in 2000. So what gives?
Try a little Northern exposure.
Four of Marsh's five starters—Augusta James,Vivian Tsui,Brittany Marchand and Amanda Baker—hail from Canada. While their migration to Raleigh has gone better than anticipated, the team ranks 14th in the latest coaches' poll, Marsh has a inkling good things were in the offing.
Indeed, she left this summer's Canadian Women's Amateur feeling cautiously ecstatic. Tsui, James and Baker each finished in the top 10 in the event—Marchand and Ana Menendez, the Wolfpack's fifth starter who hails from Mexico, also made the cut. But with only Baker being a junior, and the rest underclassmen, Marsh expected a bit of a transition period heading into the season.
"On paper, I felt like the group was really special," said Marsh, who looked north of the border after seeing coach Richard Sykes have success recruiting there with the Wolfpack men's team. "You could just see their talent, how they interacted well with each other. And that's huge. But they still had to come to school."
That same group kept the momentum in their first fall college event, shattering the school record for the lowest three-day total score by 10 shots in a competitive Cougar Classic field (they finished T-4 with an even-par 864 total). One week later, N.C. State claimed the Wild Eggs Cardinal Cup in Louisville, Ky., just its second team title in four years.
James, Tsui and Marchand have known each other since they were 7, a key to establishing the strong camaraderie and work ethic the team has demonstrated in practice, Marsh said. The lineup gelled easily since the first day of fall practice, she said.
"They're all personally goal-oriented and collectively they have great energy," said Marsh, whose teams had made nine straight appearances at NCAA regionals before missing out on a bid in 2011. "They really have this inner-drive and desire to do better and they're always asking what more they can do.
"They're a young group, but they're mature in a lot of ways," she continued, "and that's a lot of credit to their parents who helped them prioritize and focus in the right areas. They're working every day to get better, and that's where that whole atmosphere and energy to get better. That's what really helps build a championship program."
Honorable mention: Oklahoma State
A new coach and young lineup trying to find its way (three of the five players finish outside of the top-100 at the NCAA Central Regional last May) usually doesn't result in a squad that comes out and wins its first two tournaments of the season. Yet that was the case for Alan Bratton's Cowgirls, who went from unranked in the Golf World preseason poll to No. 6.
Returning players Jayde Panos,Josephine Janson,Jocelyn Alford and Hillary Wood have meshed well with Bratton. Meanwhile, BYU transfer Kelsey Vines and SMU transfer Amy Ruengmatakhun have give OSU instant depth as well as a shot of confidence.