Who is the player of the year in men’s college golf this season? It’s a tricky question to answer given the number of viable candidates. With this week’s NCAA Championship serving as a final exam, there are five legitimate players to choose from, with a dark-horse candidate or two ready to jump in the mix if they were to be victorious at Karsten Creek.
Here are the front runners, listed alphabetically, with their 2017-’18 stats through NCAA Regionals.
Who is the player of the year is also a tricky question to answer given the number of viable player-of-the-year awards out there. Much like college football, various groups with connections to college golf have, over time, created season-ending honors as a way to help promote the sport. Three national POY awards have emerged as prizes for collegiate golfers to aspire to win: the Ben Hogan Award, the Jack Nicklaus Award and the Fred Haskins Award.
Mind you, not all POY awards are alike. The most unique is the Hogan Award, given out by the Friends of Golf in conjunction with the Golf Coaches Association of America and Colonial Country Club. When it was created in 1990, the Hogan Award honored scholar-athletes. In 2002, however, the criteria changed to account more specifically for performance, although it’s not just a player’s college results that are considered by a panel of voters (full disclosure: I am a voter) but also finishes in amateur competitions and any professional events played.
So it was that Ghim, runner-up at the U.S. Amateur last August and low amateur at the Masters in April, walked off with the Hogan Award on Monday night in a black-tie affair at Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club (see photo above), beating fellow finalists Morikawa and Thornberry, members of last year’s victorious U.S. Walker Cup team.
While Ghim is riding a hot streak of late, with two of his three college wins this season coming in his last two starts (the Big 12 Championship and the NCAA Raleigh Regional), he might not be the pick for either the Nicklaus or Haskins awards, which looks solely at college results. Over the course of the 2017-’18 season, the other four front-runners have been more consistently inside the top 10 on leader boards than Ghim.
Unfortunately for Suh and Morikawa, they can’t add any more to their resumes as their teams failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship. Thornberry’s Ole Miss squad also couldn’t advance out of NCAA Regionals, but he finished high enough that he qualified as an individual to play at Karsten Creek, where he’ll attempt to become the first player to win back-to-back NCAA individual titles since Phil Mickelson at Arizona State in 1989 and 1990.
A panel of college coaches votes on the Nicklaus Award, which has been given by the GCAA beginning in 1988, with the winner named immediately after the NCAA Championship (the GCAA also offers the Nicklaus Award for Division II, III, NAIA and NJCAA).
The Haskins Award was first handed out in 1971 by the Country Club of Columbus in Georgia, where Haskins was the head professional. It’s voted on by current Division I players, a panel of coaches, sports information directors, media (I vote for this award, too) and past Haskins winners. The winner will be named in June.
Considering the Nicklaus and Haskins awards follow essentially the same criteria for selecting its winners, it’s not surprising that the player who earns one usually grabs them both. At least that’s been the case in 15 of the last 20 years, although the past two seasons there has been a split (Arizona State’s Jon Rahm won the Nicklaus in 2016 while Texas’ Beau Hossler took the Haskins; and last year LSU’s Sam Burns was the Nicklaus winner and Thornberry was the Haskins honoree).
If Ghim were to win the NCAA individual title this week, his three straight victories at conference, regionals and nationals might be enough to also earn him the Nicklaus and Haskins awards. If he were to grab all three in the same season, he’d join rare company. Only UNLV’s Ryan Moore in 2005 and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers in 2014 have pulled off the hat trick.