Fun in the Sun (At least for some)
School might be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean college golf teams are on vacation. On the contrary, coaches hit the recruiting trails in 2½-month window between the NCAA Championship and the start of the fall season, looking to influence the long-term health of their programs. Moreover, collegiate players (and recent high school graduates) are traveling the amateur circuits, in many cases building expectations for the coming year on some campuses—and in some instances leaving doubts about what to expect come September.
Here's a quick look at some teams on the rise and some that have their collective fingers crossed as the 2006-07 season approaches.
You don’t have to ask Larry Penley how he feels about the upcoming season; the grin on his face speaks for itself. Then again, you too would be smiling if no fewer than four players on your 2006-07 roster have won significant amateur events in the last 10 weeks. It began with rising sophomore Phillip Mollica taking the Monroe Invitational title. Then sophomore Ben Martin won the Palmetto Amateur and junior Tanner Ervin claimed the Rice Planters.
Most impressive, perhaps, has been the performance of incoming freshman Kyle Stanley. The 18-year-old from Gig Harbor, Wash., won June’s Sahalee Players Championship by eagling the 18th hole twice in a playoff and followed it up with a one-shot victory at the Southern Amateur last month.
Meanwhile, sophomore David May finished fourth at the rain-shortened Northeast Amateur and promising sophomore Vince Hatfield is back with the Tigers in the fall. Toss in the fact that you’ve also got Sam Saunders joining the team as a freshman, and it’s not hard to see why Clemson looks to be in good position for the new year.
OKLAHOMA STATE men
As if to prove his late season heroics were no fluke, NCAA medalist Jonathan Moore has continued his torrid play with an appearance at the U.S. Open and a victory at the Players Amateur, where he shot a 22-under 262. Meanwhile, junior Pablo Martin, last year’s NCAA player of the year, just qualified for the U.S. Amateur and looks to be on form. Heck even assistant coach Alan Bratton is playing well, having qualified for the U.S. Amateur himself later this month after claiming the Oklahoma State amateur title. Suffice it to say, the Cowboys look like they’ll be in the hunt to defend their NCAA team title.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA women
The loss of graduating senior Irene Cho will be hard to overcome but incoming freshman Belen Mozo looks like she’s going to make things easier after winning the Ladies British Open Amateur. USC is no stranger to international standouts (see current NCAA champion Dewi-Claire Schreefel, back for her junior year), but the 17-year-old Spaniard looks like she might be particularly special. Meanwhile, Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team member Melissa Reid could become a mid-season addition to the USC line-up, pending results from taking the SATs.
There was talk at the NCAA Championship last May that junior-to-be Amie Cochran might not be long for the program, interest in pursuing a professional career acted on when she turned pro at the U.S. Women's Open. But with sophomore-to-be Jane Park set to do the same after next week's U.S. Women's Amateur, the Bruins once vaunted line-up has become suddenly thin, even with the addition of Sydnee Michaels in September.
Making matters worse for coach Carrie Forsyth is the timing of the two announcements, which keep her from being able to add two more players with the scholarships of Cochran/Park. Essentially, UCLA will be using only four scholarship, unless the money is given to current walk-ons. It’s one of the perils of coaching that I wrote about last September, and it’s only going to continue being an issue as more young players having wandering eyes looking at pro golf.
It’s not that the Bulldogs have moved backward so much as you just haven’t heard much from All-Americans Chris Kirk, Brendon Todd and Brian Harman this summer. Among the few making headlines out of Athens is incoming freshman Hudson Swafford’s victory at the Dogwood Invitational. Hard to think the Georgia golfers won’t answer the bell come the fall, but they’ve just been conspicuous by their absence.
AUGUSTA STATE women/UC IRVINE women
Forget what the players on the Jaguars’ and Anteaters’ squads have done, it’s the loss of their inspirational coaches that will hurt these up-and-coming programs. Trelle McCombs goes from Augusta State to Tulsa after leading the Jaguars to their first ever NCAA regional appearance. Kelly Crawford literally built the UC Irvine program from scratch but after five years is off to Iowa this fall. Suffice it to say, the schools they leave behind will have a tough time resuming their roles as small schools with big hopes now that their respective coaches have moved on to other schools.