Conference call, April 23
So you think college golf is predictable? Well of course you knew, then, that the hottest team in the country, the top-ranked Georgia men, was going to have its worst opening round of the 2006-07 last Friday at the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs finished the day in 10th place, too far behind to move any higher than sixth place by Sunday at Sea Island GC. Instead of taking the team title, as predicted, Georgia watched Tennessee walk off with the its third SEC championship and first since 1990 with a two-shot triumph over Alabama. (Click here for full results.)
And you knew, too, that the Virginia Tech men, who after a disappointing 11th-place finish at the Courtyard by Marriott Intercollegiate the previous Saturday weren't sure they were going to get a bid to regionals, then had the horror of living through the tragic shootings on their Blacksburg, Va., campus April 16, would come out in the final round of the ACC Championship, shoot a nine-under 279 and claim a share of the title with Georgia Tech. You may never find a more impressive performance than Hokie senior captain Ryan Sypniewski's 67 Sunday at Old North State Club, which included four birdies over the final seven holes.
"I've never been prouder of his leadership," said Virginia Tech men's coach Jay Hardwick when I reached him on his cell phone Sunday night as he was 20 minutes outside Blacksburg on the team van. "The other guys saw him putting up all those birdies and they knew that we had a chance."
Truth is, the only thing this weekend that anyone remotely forecast was the Georgia women taking their conference-best 11th SEC title by 16 strokes over Florida (click here for full results). Give credit to Bulldog sophomore Taylor Leon, whose final-round 67 at Old Waverly CC gave her medalist honors by four shots over teammate Garrett Phillips and Tennessee's Marci Turner.
"Taylor played awesome golf today,” Georgia women's coach Todd McCorkle said. “She seemed hit every one of her iron shots close to the hole. Watching her today, it was like it was effortless.”
Despite all the warning signs mentioned above, your intrepid reporter tries to give you his vision for how a few other conference championships will play out over the next few days:
Field: __Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Florida, St. John's
__Skinny:__The Cardinals play host and are the No. 1 seed as they get set to defend their title. Don't be surprised to see White, a senior, repeat as medalist.
Field: Cal Poly, CSU-Northridge, Long Beach State, UC-Davis*, UC-Irvine, UC-Riverside
*competing in 2007
__Skinny:__While the team competition should be exciting (giving the edge here to UC-Irvine to three-peat, with Long Beach State not far behind), the real treat will be to watch the individual battle between the last two Big West players of the year, Long Beach State's Kay Hoey and UC-Irvine's Henderson. Hoey's victory this month at the Peg Barnard California Collegiate suggests momentum is on her side, although Henderson recently won the Anteater Invitational, her fifth college title. Honestly, it's a coin flip on who will come out on top.
Field:__ __Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Washington State
__ Skinny:__ Hard to believe given the school's storied tradition, but it has been nine years since Arizona State won its last Pac-10 title. Coach Melissa Luellen's Sun Devils are too strong, however, to be denied again. ASU's talented trio of Anna Nordqvist, Jennifer Osborn and Azahara Munoz make it likely that they'll take medalist honors as well. Having seen Nordqvist get her first win of the year at home earlier this month, Osborn is our pick to equal her teammate's feat.
__Field:__Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, SMU, Southern Mississippi, Tulsa, UTEP
*competing in 2007
Skinny: SMU coach Todd Selders deserves more than just coach-of-the-year honors for the way he has kept together a team hurt badly by injuries (most notably Laura Cross). The good news was he got senior Jennifer Ackerson back for the first time all spring at the Susie Maxwell Berning tournament earlier this month. Selders patience will be rewarded when the Mustangs pull out the team title, and look for Lacey Jones to finish claim to pull out individual honors.
__Field:__Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State
__ Skinny:__ A win and seven top-five finishes in eight starts gives San Jose State the resume to defend their conference title; a 5-0 record versus Fresno State this year doesn't hurt either. The Bulldogs' Jennifer Shipley and Laura Luethke, however, will give Gomez a run for her money in defending the medalist crown.
Field: __Austin Peay State, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Morehead State, Murray State, Samford, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Tenn.-Martin
*competing in 2007
__Skinny:__The championship comes to the CC of Paducah for the fifth time and should be a close contest if history has anything to say about it; seven of the last 10 championships have been decided by four strokes or less, including two playoffs (2002, 2006). Austin Peay State, which has all five of its starters in the top 12 in the OVC in scoring average, might have the inside track but defending champion Eastern Kentucky has three of the top-10. Individually, Tennessee Tech's Scott Stallings (71.1 average) is the favorite.
Field: __Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Davidson, Elon, Furman, Georgia Southern, UNC-Greensboro, Tenn.-Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Wofford
*competing in 2007
Skinny: You can't ever count out defending champion Georgia Southern, although this year might just be when Chattanooga makes its stand after claiming three team titles this spring and as a team is hitting 70 percent of its fairways. Cook cooled off after winning three times in the fall, but is still a favorite individually.
__Field:__Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John's, Villanova
__ Skinny:__ With five wins in 2006-07, Louisville has had its best season in school history. The Cardinal also have incentive after a painful playoff loss in last year's Big East Championship. Expect Louisville's Fathauer twins (Daryl and Derek) to step up, but also watch for Marquette sophomore Mike Van Sickle (three wins) to make a run at the individual title.
__Field:__Centenary, IUPUI, Missouri-Kansas City, Oakland, Oral Roberts, Southern Utah, Western Illinois
__ Skinny: __Defending champion Western Illinois has won three times this season, including its last two tournaments, and looks poised to repeat in 2007. WIU senior Tim Streng has had four top-five finishes in six spring starts and seems to be heading for the individual title, with Oral Roberts' Mauricio Tamez and Southern Utah's Eric Nilsson being likely his toughest competition.
__Field:Bradley, __Creighton, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Wichita State
__ Skinny: __The Shockers were the unanimous pick of the conference's nine coaches to win the MVC title again in 2007. We'll make it 10 for 10.
Field:Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
__ Skinny:__ It's asking a lot to just expect a team just to turn it on in the post-season, but Oklahoma State has the talent to do so. The defending NCAA champions will be playing with their full line-up for just the second time since February. Texas A&M is likely to make some noise, but in the end the Cowboys will ride away with their 50th conference title.
For live scoring, link here to Golfstat____
__Big West __
__Field:__Cal Poly, CSU-Northridge, Long Beach State, Pacific, UC-Irvine, UC-Riverside, UC-Santa Barbara
__ Skinny:__ Three different teams have won the past three Big West titles (2004: Long Beach State; 2005: UC-Riverside; 2006: Cal Poly), and our bet is UC-Irvine makes it four in four years despite the fact the defending champs have won their last two tournaments. The Anteaters have top-five finishes in eight of their nine starts this season.
__Field:__Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Washington State
*competing in 2007
Skinny: Can Conrad Ray's squad continue its magic season and hold off UCLA and USC? Our gut sides with the Bruins actually (sorry Stanford fans), although the Cardinal will surely put up a good fight in this unique format (72 holes over three days, 36-18-18; play six, count five scores). Individually, ASU's Niklas Lemke and USC's Jamie Lovemark are among just some of the headliners. For a real wildcard, keep an eye on Oregon's Derek Sipe, who is playing well and has the advantage of the tournament being played at Eugene CC.