124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



College Golf

Did we just see the best season by a freshman in men’s college golf history?

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Jackson Koivun became the first player to win men's college golf's three national player of the year awards (Ben Hogan, Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus) and the national freshman of the year award (Phil Mickelson).

C. Morgan Engel

DUBLIN, Ohio — Auburn sensation Jackson Koivun has been acquitting himself well this week at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, his first start in a PGA Tour event. But he admits that he is starting to run out of gas.

Given a sponsor exemption after winning the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top collegiate player in Division I, the 19-year-old from Chapel Hill, N.C., struggled to a six-over-par 78 Saturday in the third round at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club. But the mere fact that he made the cut in the limited-field signature event was an achievement while competing against most of the best players in the world. It’s a confidence builder for whenever he decides to turn pro.

“It was just a struggle coming in mentally. I'm just a little tired from a lot of golf recently up through nationals,” Koivun said after playing his last seven holes in five over par. “Obviously great to make the weekend, but I can kind of feel the wear and tear all the golf we’ve been playing.”

The golf Koivun has been playing has led to an historic collection of accolades.

Finding a blemish on Koivun’s résumé from his just-completed freshman season at Auburn is a challenge. He went 3-0 in match play at last week’s NCAA Championship to help the Tigers claim their first men’s national team title in school history. And that was after going 2-0 to help Auburn win the SEC title in April.

Then there’s his 69.475 stroke average over 40 rounds, another school record and the best of any college golfer in 2023-24. In 13 starts, Koivun won two individual titles and had 12 top-six finishes. His worst finish was a T-19 and his worst round a two-over 74. He fell one shot short of a playoff for the NCAA individual title, so he wasn’t perfect. Yet if that’s the blemish …

Koivun’s impressive season earned him not only the Nicklaus Award but also two other national player of the year honors, the Ben Hogan Award and the Fred Haskins Award last week, making Koivun the eighth player to earn all three awards in the same year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Koivun also earned the Phil Mickelson Award as the national freshman of the year. By grabbing that honor, Koivun became the first college golfer ever to sweep all four awards.

This “first” comes with a slight caveat; the Mickelson Award has only been given out since the early 2000s. Meaning the man who it’s named after didn’t have a chance to win it himself.

Indeed, you can make the argument that Koivun just pulled off the best freshman season ever in men’s college golf. But if he did, he had to top what Mickelson accomplished in 1988-89 when he was in his first year at Arizona State.

That season Mickelson won the first of three NCAA individual titles, becoming the fifth freshman to claim the honor. That was Mickelson’s third victory of the season, also topping Koivun. But Mickelson had just seven top-10 finishes that year and a 72.14 stroke average. Considering the entire body of work, Koivun would seem to have the advantage.

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Jackson Koivun signs autographs at the Memorial Tournament.

Ben Jared

Other notable freshman seasons came from Ben Crenshaw at Texas in 1970-71, when he became the first freshman to win the NCAA title (although that was his lone win that year); Curtis Strange at Wake Forest in 1973-74; and Tiger Woods at Stanford in 1994-95 (3 wins, 71.37 scoring average).

Those are pretty good names. Koivun hopes to one day take his game to the next level as they did, though he is not in a hurry, despite his standing in the PGA Tour University Accelerated program. Koivun has earned 15 points after collecting another point for making the cut at the Memorial, and he’ll get a 16th with his Palmer Cup participation. A player who earns 20 points by the end of their third year of NCAA eligibility earns tour membership.

Koivun told Golf Digest that he will return for his sophomore season at Auburn after a summer schedule that includes the Palmer Cup and the U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National near Minneapolis. Somewhere in the midst of amateur golf he hopes to compete in another PGA Tour event.

“I’m not really thinking about [turning pro] too much right now,” said Koivun, whose next tournament is the Northeast Amateur, which begins June 17. “That’s something that just takes time with PGA Tour U. In my mind, it’s going to be there whenever I need it. We have a [national] title to defend next year. Obviously, it’s still a time for a lot of growing.”

One avenue that is not an option—at least not yet—is the LIV Golf League. No, he hasn’t heard from LIV CEO Greg Norman about an opportunity, one taken by promising young players like Caleb Surratt and 2021 U.S. Amateur champion James Piot.

“No, I haven’t heard from Greg Norman,” Koivun said with a grin. “It’s a fair question. Right now, I’m just looking at playing well in amateur events and going back to school and we’ll figure the rest out with my coaches and my parents when the time is right.”

Additional reporting by Ryan Herrington.