CollegesMay 16, 2018

A pair of college player-of-the-year candidates see their season end early after NCAA Regionals stumbles

Justin Suh
David Cannon/Getty Images

The 2017-’18 men’s college golf season has been shaping up not so much as a year of titanic teams—although there are a few of those —but of standout individual golfers from across the country. But a showdown of the best and brightest at the NCAA Championship will be missing some of those high profile players thanks to the postseason tournament that all college golf fans love to hate.

NCAA Regionals.

USC’s Justin Suh and California’s Collin Morikawa, the top two players in the latest Golfstat men’s player ranking, saw their seasons end abruptly when their schools failed to advance out of their respective Regional sites as the six play-in tournaments for a spot at the NCAA Championship wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.

Suh, a 20-year-old junior who won five titles his season and finished worse than fourth in just eight of 10 starts for the Trojans, shot a two-under 214 to finish T-19 at the Pacific Regional. With USC failing to be inside the top five schools after 54 holes, the team failed to earn a spot into the 30-team field that will play later this month at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

At the Raleigh Regional, Morikawa, a 21-year-old junior with a 69.27 adjusted scoring average this season, suffered a similar fate. A six-under 207 left him T-10, but the Bears finished in ninth place as a team.

Harry How/Getty Images

Collin Morikawa

“It was another solid year, but at the end of the day I didn’t get my team to our end goal of the national championship,” Morikawa said. “It’s a tough week to really look back on, but I’ll have to really see what I did right and wrong and use it to help improve my game for this summer as well as next season.”

Both Suh and Morikawa are considered front runners for the Jack Nicklaus Award and the Fred Haskins Award, both honors given to the national college player of the year. Morikawa is also one of three finalists for the Ben Hogan Award, given to the top college player when accounting for both his college and amateur resume the previous 12 months.

Another big-name golfer nearly joined Suh and Morikawa in watching the national championship from home. Mississippi junior Braden Thornberry, the defending NCAA individual champion, needed a final-round 70 at the College Station Regional to propel him into fourth place individually. With the Rebels shooting a closing 10-over 298, and from fifth to sixth place in the final round at The Traditions Golf Club, the school failed to earn a spot at nationals. However, because Thornberry was the low individual at the Lonnie Poole Golf Club from a school that did not earn an NCAA berth, he will get to play at Karsten Creek as an individual.

Jamie Schwaberow

Braden Thornberry

Of course, the NCAA Championship will not be void of any national player-of-the-year contenders. Oregon’s Norman Xiong, No. 5 in the Golfstat ranking and Texas’ Doug Ghim, No. 10, earned medalist honors at their respective Regionals. Xiong, a five-time winner this season, shot a 15-under 201 to win the Pacific Regional. Ghim, a senior who was the U.S. Amateur runner-up last August and finished T-50 at the Masters to earn low amateur honors, shot a 17-under 196 to win in Raleigh.

A handful of top teams also found their seasons come to premature endings on Wednesday. Georgia Tech was the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh but missed out on reaching nationals by a single stroke. In their place, Augusta, an 12th seed returns to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2011, when the Jaguars won their second straight national title—at Karsten Creek.

LSU, the No. 1 seed at the Pacific Regional, also was an upset victim, finishing in sixth place and missing out on an NCAA berth by five strokes. Kansas was the surprise winner in that Regional, advancing to nationals for the first time since 2000. Iowa State, the 10th seed, also pulled the upset by finishing third at The Reserve at Spanos Park.

Not all favorites struggled, though. Top-ranked Oklahoma State cruised to its ninth team title of the season by winning the Columbus Regional, while in-state rival Oklahoma enjoyed its home course advantage by winning the Norman Regional by one stroke over BYU. The Cougars inclusion in the NCAA Championship for the first time since creates a logistical issue that occurred at the NCAA Women's Championship in 2016. Because the school prohibits play on Sunday, the day of the scheduled third round of stroke play, the team will have to play that round on Thursday of championship week, the practice round day for the other 29 schools in the field.

KISSIMMEE REGIONAL
Reunion Golf Club, Kissimmee, Fla.
Qualified
Florida, -42/822
UCF, -30/834
Vanderbilt, -22/842
North Carolina, -21/843
Kent State, -20/844 Failed to advance
Arizona, -18/846
Colorado State, -16/848

MedalistAndy Zhang, Florida, -13/203

Individual qualifierGeorge Cunningham, Arizona

RALEIGH REGIONAL
Lonnie Poole Golf Course at N.C. State, Raleigh, N.C.
Qualified
Texas, -39/813
Duke, -22/830
N.C. State, -21/831
Augusta, -20/832
Arizona State, -18/834
Failed to advance
Georgia Tech, -17/835
Middle Tennessee State, -16/836

MedalistDoug Ghim, Texas, -17/196

Individual qualifierPontus Nyholm, Campbell, -9/204

COLUMBUS REGIONAL
Scarlet Course at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio
Qualified
Oklahoma State, -8/844
Illinois, E/852
UNLV, +15/867
Northwestern, +16/868
Texas Tech, +18/870
Failed to advance
Penn State, +25/877
Michigan State, +32/884

MedalistKyle Mueller, Michigan, -5/208

Individual qualifier
Kyle Mueller, Michigan

NORMAN REGIONAL
Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, Norman, Okla.
Qualified
Oklahoma, -14/850
Brigham Young, -13/851
North Florida, -13/851
Auburn, -3/861
Arkansas, -3/861
Failed to advance
Florida State, -2/862
Virginia, -1/863

Medalist
Travis Trace, North Florida, -11/205

Individual qualifierJoshua McCarthy, Pepperdine

COLLEGE STATION REGIONAL
Traditions Golf Club, College Station, Texas
Qualified
Texas A&M, -27/837
Clemson, -18/846
Baylor, -7/857
UCLA, +2/866
Kentucky, +10/874
Failed to advance
Mississippi, +13/877
South Carolina, +18/882

MedalistChandler, Phillips, Texas A&M, -11/205

Individual qualifierBraden Thornberry, Mississippi

PACIFIC REGIONAL
The Reserve at Spanos Park, Stockton, Calif.
Qualified
Kansas, -20/844
Stanford, -19/845
Iowa State, -17/847
Alabama, -15/849
Oregon, -12/852
Failed to advance
LSU, -7/857
Colorado, -2/862

MedalistNorman Xiong, Oregon, -15/201

Individual qualifierCharles Corner, UTEP