__THE FAB FIVE
My look at the top five teams in the country right now__
__1. Alabama __—Seventh-place finish to close the fall in Hawaii was lone hiccup for the Crimson Tide thus far in 2006-07. With the target now firmly planted on their backs, it’s time now, to see if they’re truly for real. Next event: John Hayt Collegiate, Sawgrass CC, Ponte Vedra, Fla.
2. Oklahoma State—Pablo Martin and Jonathan Moore are back in the lineup for the entire spring, giving Cowboys arguably the best one-two punch in the country. Next event: U-H Hilo Invitational, Waikoloa Village GC, Waikoloa, Hawaii (in progress)
__3. Stanford __—Cardinal coach Conrad Ray can only hope the winter break won’t stall the momentum—and confidence—his squad gained with three wins and five top-fives in the fall. Next event: U-H Hilo Invitational, Waikoloa Village GC, Waikoloa, Hawaii (in progress)
4. Florida—Billy Horschel+confidence+home course advantage at Gator Invitational=strong start to the spring for the Gators. Next start: SunTrust Gator Invitational, U. of Florida GC, Gainesville, Fla.
5. UCLA—Having spent the fall getting his entire squad starts, it’s now up to Bruins coach O.D. Vincent to narrow down his lineup and build continuity. Next event: John Hayt Collegiate, Sawgrass CC, Ponte Vedra, Fla.
- Georgia__—Only question mark entering the fall is how will Bulldog coach Todd McCorkle do after hip surgery last month? Next event: Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar Resort, Puerto Rico.
__2. Duke __—The fact that this is the first time in a few years that the Blue Devils don’t start the spring as the hands down favorite might prove beneficial for coach Dan Brooks in motivating his players. Next event: Arizona Wildcat Invitational, The Raven GC, Tucson
__3. Arizona State __—Sun Devils coach Melissa Luellen has her deepest squad since taking over the program in the fall of 2002. Next event: Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge, Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
__4. Vanderbilt __—The Lady Commodores surprised many in the fall and aren’t too happy about the whispers that their win over Duke at the Lady Tar Heel Invitational should be dismissed because of the Blue Devils’ scorecard mishap. Next event: Arizona Wildcat Invitational, The Raven GC, Tucson
5. Auburn—It’s time for senior Nicole Hage to step up and carry the Tigers, a la Maria Martinez a year ago. Says here she’s up to the task. Next event: Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Rio Mar Resort, Puerto Rico
STAT OF THE WEEK____
Number of days between Arizona fifth-year senior Brian Prouty’s last two college rounds—the 2006 NCAA Championship, final round and the 2007 Ping-Arizona Intercollegiate, first round
__STAT OF THE WEEK, PART II
Decrease in the number of strokes taken in those two round. Prouty shot a 77 in his final 18 at the Crosswater Course at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort on June 3, 2006 and then shot a 62 at Arizona National GC Jan. 29, 2007, a tournament record. Prouty followed up last week’s play with a 67-70 to claim medalist honors with a 14-under 199, four shots better than New Mexico senior Charlie Beljan and East Tennessee State freshman Seamus Power.
Between last year’s NCAAs and last week’s victory, Prouty injured his left wrist at last summer’s Arizona Amateur and required surgery to address cartilage damage that kept him out of the lineup the entire fall. It wasn’t until mid-December that doctors cleared him to practice putting and not until a few weeks before the Tucson event that he could take full swings.
“I knew I was hitting the ball well, and I felt good about my game,” Prouty told the Tucson Citizen. “But the first time back? It was a big surprise.”
“He worked hard, he deserved this,” said Arizona coach Rick LaRose. “He worked hard through his rehab when others might have said, ‘ah, lets see what happens.’ ”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
• The team currently ranks 15th in the Golf World college coaches' poll and is coming off a seventh-place finish at the Ping-Arizona intercollegiate. Yet after this week's UH-Hilo Intercollegiate, the Arizona State men's team plays six more tournaments between now and NCAA regionals and yet will only have to travel more than 250 miles two more times (the Oregon Duck Invitational in March and the Pac-10 Championship in April, both at Eugene (Ore.) CC). Compare this to fellow Pac-10 rivals UCLA (the gold team makes two cross-country trips and has no events in California), Stanford (one to Puerto Rico and only one within 280 miles) and USC (two cross-country and only one within 360 miles). Does this mean the Sun Devils will be more rested come the postseason and have a better shot at the NCAA Championship? I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far. Still, less travel can't hurt a team in terms of creating fewer disruptions and leading to fewer headaches.
• A four-shot victory over BYU at the Ping-Arizona Intercollegiate gave the 13th-ranked UNLV men's team its first team title in the 2006-07 season. More importantly, it should give other top Division I teams cause for concern. While not having a "big name" player to anchor the Rebels lineup, a la Ryan Moore and Andres Gonzales, UNLV's roster obviously runs deep. C.J. Gatto and Jarred Texter posted top-10s in Tucson to lead the way. Meanwhile, last year's impressive freshman Seung-Su Han wasn't in the line-up, continuing a disappointing sophomore campaign for the South Korea native. If Han starts clicking, considering the strength of the rest of the team, you're looking at a great dark horse come NCAA Championship time in June.
• To address a cyst on his L4/L5 vertebre that had caused him pain in his leg for nearly two years now, East Tennessee men's coach Fred Warren thought he was going to need surgery that required a three- to five-day stay in the hospital, wearing a back brace for months and restrict travel for up to four weeks. Instead, the GCAA Hall of Fame coach underwent successful microsurgery outside Knoxville this week that was an outpatient procedure requiring only a few days of rest. Look for him to accompany his 16th-ranked team to Puerto Rico in two weeks.
TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
SunTrust Gator Invitational__
(for live results, click here for Golfstat)
University of Florida GC, Gainesville, Fla. (Par 70, 6,701 yards)
Field: Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Kentucky, LSU, North Florida, Ohio State, Purdue, Tulsa, Wake Forest
Defending champion: Florida (15-over 855); Sam Korbe, Tulsa (even-par 210)
Skinny: After an impressive fall season that included one win and five top-five finishes in five events, the No. 2 ranked Gators are looking to pick up where they left off as they open the spring season. Given their history in their home event, chances are quite good they’ll play the part of poor hosts; in 20 of the tournament’s first 29 years, Florida has been the victory, including a six-shot triumph over Tulsa a year ago. Only seven Gators have won individually after then Florida senior Brett Stegmaier fell to Tulsa’s Sam Korbe in a playoff in 2006. Past champions include Paul Azinger (Florida State, 1981), David Toms (LSU, 1989), Chris DiMarco (Florida, 1990) and Chris Couch (Florida, 1994, 1995).
Northrup Grumman Regional Challenge__
(for live results, click here for Golfstat)
Palos Verdes GC, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. (Par 71, 5,912 yards)
Field: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Florida, Florida State, Kent State, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Ohio State. Pepperdine, Stanford, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC, Wake Forest
Defending champion: Arizona State (40-over 852); Irene Cho, USC (one-over 14)
Skinny: It’s a cruel trick Palos Verdes plays on women’s collegiate teams when they arrive at the course just outside Los Angeles. While players are still taking their games out of winter hiberation, the layout traditionally has some of the most challenging (read: fast) greens they will face. “It reminds you of a U.S. Open-style course,” said Ohio State women’s coach Therese Hession, whose school has hosted the event since its 1996 inception. “You can’t overpower it. You’ve got to be patient and smart.” Again the field has several highly ranked squads (13 of the 15 schools are in Golf World’s top 25) including No. 3 Arizona State, No. 7 UCLA and No. 10 Pepperdine. A year ago, the Sun Devils used their one-shot win over USC in this spring opener to kick start an impressive spring season that saw then jump from seventh to second in the polls. Already ranked No. 2 entering spring of 2007, a victory could be enough to take the top spot away from Georgia.