News & ToursApril 28, 2011

This Week's Syllabus: April 28-May 4


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



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1. Oklahoma State (Last week: 1)

I genuinely believe that winning doesn't get old (at least for elite athletes) but if it did, it might feel something like what the Cowboys seem to be doing of late. A comfortable win at Big 12s yesterday was the school's 54th league title overall (in 65 years) and seventh win of the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, if the scuttlebutt that Morgan Hoffmann might not be returning for his senior year is true, his individual victory at Prairie Dunes is a nice way to wind down your college career.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 19-21

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2. Florida (2)

Bank Vongvanij's patience is rewarded (as is Buddy Alexander's) with the senior being SEC player of the year. Equally impressive is that Vongvanij also received a share of the scholar-athlete of the year award (with 3.45 GPA in finance). Meanwhile, the Gators have three players earn first-team All-SEC honors (Andres Echavarria and Phillip Choi) for first time since 1995.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 19-21__


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3. UCLA (3)

The Bruins have won 10 titles, including an NCAA Championship, since Derek Freeman took over as coach in fall 2007. Why do you get the feeling the one hole on his resume might get filled at the Pac-10s this week?

Next event: Pac-10 Championship, Stanford GC, Palo Alto, Calif., April 29-May 1

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4. Georgia Tech (NR)

You can say the ACC isn't as strong as in year's past, and that the Yellow Jackets have some kind of weird karma with Old North State Club. But when you shoot a 33 under par, win by 20 strokes, break the tournament record in a historic conference and claim a fifth title in six years, you're doing something more than just being lucky.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 19-21__


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5. Alabama (4)

Junior Bud Cauley is trying to finish off a season in which he currently has the lowest single-season stroke average in Crimson Tide history (70.52). Freshman Cory Whitsett is having the best rookie year of any Alabama player in school history. Biggest question mark right now for Jay Seawell's group is the health of Bobby Wyatt, who returned to play SECs after missing two events with shoulder injury.  

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 19-21__



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1. USC (Last week: 1)

The Trojans have played with confidence in past years at NCAA Regionals, winning four of the previous five seasons. No reason to think there won't be more of the same this time around outside of Seattle.

Next event: NCAA West Regional, Washington National GC, Auburn, Wash., May 5-7

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2. UCLA (2)

The Bruins know a thing or two about being shipped out to the Central Regional, having been on the move in 2008 and 2009 only to win the tournament both years.

Next event: NCAA Central Regional, Warren GC, Notre Dame, Ind., May 5-7

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3. Alabama (3)

The Crimson Tide come into the NCAA postseason a little humbled after their SEC defeat, which might not be a bad thing. They still rank among the top five in the country in several impressive statistical departments, including birdies, par-3 scoring, par-4 scoring, first-round score and final-round scoring. No reason to ditch their bandwagon just yet.

Next event: NCAA East Regional, LPGA International GC, Daytona Beach, Fla., May 5-7

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4. Purdue (4)

So how will the Boilermakers respond to Michigan State's upset victory over them at the Big Ten Championship? The end of Purdue's four-year run as conference champs, finishing second by five strokes, should get this group fired up. I'm sure they would have preferred being sent to the Central Regional in-state at Notre Dame, but they are too talented not to be able to handle the trip to Florida.  

Next event: NCAA East Regional, LPGA International GC, Daytona Beach, Fla., May 5-7

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5. Arizona (5)

Two wins and nine top-five finishes explain why the Wildcats should be taken seriously. A runner-up showing at Pac-10s actually served to boost their confidence rather than break it.

Next event: NCAA West Regional, Washington National GC, Auburn, Wash., May 5-7



__The number of schools that got at-large berths into the NCAA Division-I regionals that had a sub-.500 overall head-to-head record: Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, South Carolina, Texas Tech


Keep the folks in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia in your thoughts this week. The pictures from yesterday's tornadoes, particularly the ones in the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham area, were so sad. Was happy to hear back from Alabama men's coachJay Seawell and women's coach Mic Potter__ saying that he and his team were OK, that the worst of the storms went south of campus.


__* A few weeks back I wrote about the Big Ten's decision to move its men's and women's conference championships away from on-campus courses and to a neutral site (French Lick Resort in Indiana). I lamented how the conference was going to turn away from several historic and quality university-owned facilities. In reply to my note, however, I heard from several folks suggesting that the fairness of a neutral site (and the skipping of some of the less quality on-campus courses) was worth the switch.

It got me thinking about the subject of where conference championships should be played and I must admit I'm being swayed in favor of neutral sites now.

It came in part after the Auburn women claimed the SEC title a couple weeks ago while playing at Auburn University GC. I don't mean any disrespect toward Kim Evans and her program, but it was a down year for the Tigers this season, with only four finishes inside the top-10 in their first eight tournaments. Their record against conference opponents was below .500 and against Alabama and LSU, who have been ranked in the top-10 if not top-five all season, was 2-11. Yet Auburn managed to claim the team title with by an impressive 11 strokes, getting contributions from all five players unlike they had in any event this season.

Now, could it have been that the team rose to the occasion, inspired by Evans solid coaching and motivation? Absolutely. Evans is an exceptional coach, and I don't discount this as part of the reason behind the Tigers' performance. At the same time, playing at their home course, not having to travel and having their home crowd I have to think also played a part in the inspired performance.

I then looked at the results of the Big 12 Championship this past week, played at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo. It's the home venue for the Missouri women's golf team, a program that has a nice history but didn't have one of its best seasons in 2010-11 (three top-10 finishes in nine starts, only one top-five, failed to get a bid into NCAA Regionals). Like Auburn, however, it appears that Missouri enjoyed the comforts of home, finishing third in the conference championship, behind Texas and Texas A&M but ahead of Iowa State, who is having its best season in school history?

I appreciate a couple factors, the first being that on any given week one school can play well and another might slip up. I don't mean to discount that. That said, it's hard to argue that if you're playing at your home course it's not an advantage ... the question is how big?

I tossed the subject out to my followers on Twitter the other day and got mixed response. Those who did favor neutral sites said that the advantage was substantial, one suggesting it was greater than a basketball's home court advantage playing in their home gym.

Of course, if it's a big advantage, why don't the school's playing on their home courses win every year, or at least fairly regularly? In 2010 the Alabama women also won the SEC title on a course that could be considered one of their home courses. Prior to that, however, it had been 18 years since a SEC women's team won on its home course.

This weekend's Pac-10 men's will be played at Stanford GC in Palo Alto, Calif., as the conference rotates its championship among its schools. By my count, seven times since 1983 a "home" team has won the title, or 25 percent of the time. I'll be curious to see how the Cardinal fares there in the next few days. Stanford was the preseason No. 2 team in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll but has yet to win a tournament and had five top-fives in nine starts.

If Stanford wins this week, ending a 16-year conference championship draught, it would stand to reason that Conrad Ray's team might have benefited from the lucky fact that their every 10 year chance to host the conference championship turned out to be this year. Or it might be because they have a really talented team that underachieved this year but came into its own over the weekend. I'll wait to see what happens before I decide if the answer is A or B. Yet I'm beginning to think that the idea of a neutral-site championship might be the better way to go to avoid even having to contemplate whether the result of a tournament is influenced by anything other than how good the teams were that given week.



Atlantic 10 Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Mission Inn Resort, Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.

April 29-May 1

Field: Charlotte, Dayton, Fordham, Georgia Washington, LaSalle, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Joseph's (Pa.), St. Bonaventure, Temple, Xavier

Defending champion: Charlotte (+11/863) by 18 strokes over Richmond; Charlotte's Corey Nagy (-4/209) by two strokes over Charlotte's Olafur Loftsson

Skinny: No A-10 school has won six straight titles, which is what the 49ers will be trying to accomplish outside Orlando this weekend.

__Big Ten Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Birck Boilermaker GC (Kampen Course), West Lafayette, Ind.

April 29-May 1

Field: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Defending champion: Illinois (+21/1,157) by three strokes; Northwestern's David Lipsky (-3/281) by two strokes over Michigan's Matt Thompson

Skinny:Iowa has had a standout year, but to make it truly special the Hawkeyes need to take down two-time defending champion Illinois and be careful either Ohio State, Michigan or Northwestern don't do an end-around and steal a title.

__Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship

__Disney's Magnolia GC, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

April 29-May 1

Field: Canisius, Fairfield, Iona, Loyola (Md.), Manhattan, Niagara, Rider, St. Peter's, Siena

Defending champion: Loyola (Md.) (+40/904) by four strokes over Siena; Iona's Doug Hoppe (+4/220) by four strokes over Loyola's Jay Mulieri, Siena's Justin Deitz and St. Peter's Sean Fitzpatrick

Skinny:Hard to envision anyone but Loyola winning this time around. It would be the school's fourth straight MAAC title.

__Mid-American Conference Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

TPC River's Bend, Miami, Ohio

April 29-May 1

Field: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green State, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo

Defending champion: Kent State (-2/1,150) by 22 strokes over Eastern Michigan; Kent State's John Hahn and Brett Cairns (-3/285) tied for individual title

Skinny: Can John Hahn win a third-straight individual title? It has been done only once since the MAC first started holding a championship in 1947 (Toledo's Tim Hirt, 1980, 1981 and 1982)

__Northeast Conference Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Mystic Dunes GC, Celebration, Fla.

April 29-May 1

Field: Central Connecticut State, Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU-Brooklyn, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary's, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (N.Y.), St. Francis (Pa.), Wagner

Defending champion: St. Francis (Pa.) (+46/910) by one stroke over Sacred Heart; Fairleigh Dickinson's Robert Cerabone (+2/218) by one stroke over Robert Morris' C.G. Mercatoris and St. Francis (Pa.)'s Joey Amelia

Skinny:Five different schools have claimed the title in the last seven years.

__Pac-10 Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Stanford University GC, Palo Alto, Calif.

April 29-May 1

Field: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State

Defending champion: Washington (-37/1,383) by three strokes over Stanford; California's Eric Mina (-16/268) by one stroke over Arizona State's Jesper Kennegard

Skinny:Don't look now, but USC has been playing some of the best golf of any conference school the past month. Are they deep enough to win in a play-six, count-five format against cross-town rival UCLA or host Stanford?

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__Cavalier Classic

__Birdwood GC, Charlottesville, Va.

April 30

Host: Virginia

Field: Coastal Carolina, Delaware, George Mason, James Madison, Longwood, Maryland, Seton Hall, Virginia

Defending champion: Virginia (-1/575) by 20 strokes over Seton Hall; Virginia's Ben Kohles (-4/140) by two strokes over Seton Hall's Brandon Park

Skinny: It's kind of funny that this has become essentially the only event held after the conference championship season, considering that most of the 23 times the event has been played, it was actually conducted during the regular season. … Also, they offer some of the coolest team trophies of any tournament (above right).

__Patriot League Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

U.S. Naval Academy GC, Annapolis, Md.

April 30-May 1

Field: Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, Navy

Defending champion: Lafayette (+38/902) by seven strokes over Lehigh; Lafayette's Rob Robertson (+5/221) by one stroke over Lehigh's Steve Suarez

Skinny:Feel like it should be the Midshipmen's tourney to lose given their home-course edge. Teams are otherwise pretty evenly matched.

__Big West Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Mission Viejo CC, Mission Viejo, Calif.

May 2-3

Field: Cal Poly, CSU Fullerton, CSU Northridge, Long Beach State, U. of the Pacific, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara

Defending champion: UC Irvine (+9/873) by 17 strokes over U. of the Pacific; UC Irvine's John Chin (-7/209) by nine strokes over Cal Poly's Pace Johnson and Pacific's T.J. Bordeaux

Skinny:UC Davis is the favorite if judging by Golfstat rankings as the Aggies are 55th.

__WAC Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Rio Secco GC, Henderson, Nev.

May 2-4

Field: Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State

Defending champion: New Mexico State (-13/851) by seven strokes over Nevada; New Mexico State's Timothy Madigan (-14/202) by 10 strokes over San Jose State's Mark Hubbard and Nevada's Scott Smith

Skinny:New Mexico State is the favorite, but for some reason I have a hunch that Fresno State is going to make this one interesting.

__Mountain West Conference Championship

__    (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Omni Tucson National, Tucson

May 5-7

Field: Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Utah, Wyoming

Defending champion: Colorado State (-18/834) by 13 strokes over San Diego State; Colorado State's Ryan Peterson (-8/205) by two strokes over UNLV's Eddie Olson

Skinny: San Diego State comes in with the proverbial bulls-eye on its back. How will the Aztecs handle being the favorite?


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship

__Disney's Magnolia GC, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

April 29-May 1


Defending champion: