News & ToursNovember 21, 2013

College question marks entering the spring

By Ryan Herrington

The fall season always serves as a chance to gauge just how good some teams and individuals are compared to the competition. It also, however, leaves some programs and players scratching their heads trying to figure out just what they've actually learned—and what might be in store for the future.

Questions regarding what to expect in the spring have surfaced, both for teams that stumbled out of the gate as well as squads that are putting together historic seasons. Here are a few that are likely to have national ramifications come the second half of the 2013-14 campaign.

               __QUESTION MARKS/PLAYERS

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Julien Brun, TCU

I couch this "honor" with the qualifier that I have no reason to believe (nor have I talked to anybody at TCU who is suggesting this to me) that Brun isn't fully focused on putting together as solid a spring semester as he has the previous two seasons. It's just that the junior from France could never play another tournament for the Horned Frogs and he would already be the most decorated player in school history. Considering the abundant talent that has allowed him to win six individual titles at TCU and be a two-time first-team All-American, the question that arises is whether at some point Brun's skills render college golf, for lack of a better term, boring.

If such a scenario plays out, arguably the most dynamic golfer in college might play a little differently than what he's shown his first 2 1/2 years in Fort Worth. Here's hoping that earning national player-of-the-year honors is the overriding goal for Brun this spring.

Photo: James Drexler

Honorable mention: J.T. Poston, Western Carolina

Can a golfer from a lower-profile program contend for national player-of-the-year honors? The Catamount junior will be the latest to see if it's possible. In five starts this fall, the 20-year-old from Hickory, N.C., had three victories (Golfweek Program Challenge, Cardinal Intercollegiate and the Hummingbird Intercollegiate), a T-2 and a fourth-place showing. For those throwing out the "but what about the level of his competition" argument, Poston shot 70 or better in 13 of 15 rounds, posting the nation's third-best stroke average (68.93) and breaking the school's 54-hole scoring mark with his nine-under 204 showing at the Hummingbird. Those are impressive numbers no matter the events.

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Julie Yang, Oklahoma State

There's no question that the sophomore has started the 2013-14 solidly, with two runner-up finishes in three starts, and has the talent to be a first-team All-American. But will she still be a Cowgirl come 2014? Having advanced to the final stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School, which will be held next month, Yang has said if she earns a card she would turn pro. It's a scenario that led to the early departures in recent years of Sandra Gal at Florida, Anna Nordqvist at Arizona State and Stephanie Kono at UCLA.

The saving grace for first-year OSU women's coach Courtney Jones is that should Yang miss out at Q school, the likelihood of a letdown about having to return to college seems small; Yang appears to be enjoying her time in Stillwater despite going through Q school this fall.

Honorable mention: Linnea Johansson, Oklahoma State

Should Yang succeed in earning LPGA membership and depart Stillwater, Jones has a Plan B in the arrival of the transfer from Sweden this January. Johansson played last season at Nova Southeastern, earning the No. 2 ranking in Division II golf and finishing runner-up at the NCAA Championship while helping her team claim the national title. Last summer Johansson represented Sweden at the European Amateur Team Championship and she would appear to be able to give the No. 3 ranked squad in the latest Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll a nice competitive boost. Will the transition, however, go well after Johansson sat out the fall college season? Jones, for one, thinks so: "We believe she will have an immediate impact on our program."

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__Florida

Graduation hit the Gators hard, as the departure of seniors__T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber left Buddy Alexander's squad short on experience. It's a fact the team couldn't ignore during the first half of the 2013-14 season as it posted just one top-five finish (third at Shoal Creek) in four starts while falling to No. 81 in the Golfstat computer poll.

"A really strange fall in that there were a couple of really good rounds but there were so many poor rounds that it makes you wonder who we really are," Alexander said. "There is enough good there to make me think we have some talent and are pretty good, but ultimately you are what you finish."

To Alexander's credit, he had his young group (only four of the 11 golfers on the roster are letter winners with no returning seniors to lean on) that played four major-championship caliber courses in the fall, challenging venues that would have proven difficult for even a seasoned squad. The hope is that the players have been able to identify some weaknesses that they can work on to be better prepared for the spring schedule. "As tough as this semester has been, I think we can move forward and with a good winter of work we can overcome it," Alexander said.

But does he have the horses to turn it around? The Gators ended the fall with a sub-.500 record, making post-season eligibility a question. Considering Florida has reached the NCAA Championship all but one year since 1982, it could be a unusual spring for the folks in Gainesville.

Honorable mention: Texas

Being ranked 14th in the latest Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll is likely a disappointment for some Longhorn fans given the team's preseason No. 3 ranking and the talented roster John Fields has assembled. Can they snap out of it? A handful of worst-case scenarios played out this fall for UT that perhaps explain what happened and suggest the answer is yes. Most notable was the late summer wrist injury for All-American Kramer Hickok that sidelined the junior for the entire fall. Additionally, freshmen Gavin Hall and Beau Hossler got off to slower than expected starts. With Hickok on the mend (he's expected to play in The Patriot next month and be ready to compete UT in the spring) and Hall and Hossler likely to perform better after having their first semesters out of the way, things should be looking brighter in Austin this spring.

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Alabama

Mic Potter has the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion (Emma Talley) and a former British Ladies Amateur champion (Stephanie Meadow) anchoring his lineup. Yet it took the Crimson Tide, ranked No. 2 in the preseason, four tournaments before they finally appeared to be playing up to their potential. T-4, eighth and T-5 finishes to start the season caused the Crimson Tide to drop to No. 6 in the latest Golf World poll, but a victory at the Landfall Tradition (with Meadow winning her eighth career individual title) demonstrated why the coaches were so high on Alabama at the start of the season. Which squad will show up this spring? If the Crimson Tide are going to hope to dethrone reigning NCAA champion USC, they're going to have to play like the group that was victorious to close out the fall semester.

Honorable mention: USC

Undefeated in the fall and in the midst of a seven-tournament winning streak dating back to last spring, the women of Troy seem to have no worries. Yet as observers—oh say like writers at certain golf magazines—start pondering whether this might be the best women's college team of all time, how will Andrea Gaston's crew handle such scrutiny? Recall 10 years ago few thought anybody could knock off a dominate Duke team that ran the table in the fall and lost just once prior to the NCAA Championship. Come nationals, however, they wound up crashing out in third place.

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