Improvement is what every coach and player are looking for. Here's a glance at some individuals who really raised their games this fall.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
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Scott Travers, Santa Clara
A year ago at this time, the Trabuco Canyon, Calif., native was recovering from a case of mono. Travers had been diagnosed after playing in the team's opening event, finishing T-62 at the USF Collegiate in San Francisco in what turned out to be his only start of the 2008-09 season.
"He was going to come back in the spring but then [after finally getting over the mono] he got tonsillitis so we shut things down," said coach Rob Miller.
As it turns out, the time away didn't hurt the late bloomer, who returned rested and ready in September and proceeded to finish no worse than T-8 in five tournaments, posting just one score over par in 15 rounds. (That one round was a 75 at the Turtle Bay Collegiate, in which Travers had a 9 on one hole after playing a wrong ball.)
"We knew what he could have done last year, but he didn't get to show it," said Miller.
Travers applied (and expects to receive) a medical redshirt from last season, making him a redshirt junior. "It's his fourth year in college. He's been around the block a little bit," said Miller when asked about how the success might have affected Travers' attitude this fall. "He got comfortable with that quickly. It became what he expected to do."
Despite the impress fall performance, Travers isn't going to rest on his laurels. During the winter break, Miller says that his top player will be working with swing instructor Bill Johnson to get his grip back to a more neutral position.
*Honorable mention: Jared Becher, Nevada
*Last fall as a junior, the 22-year-old Reno, Nev., native had a 74.46 fall average with two top-10 finishes. This time around, Becher posted a 70.47 mark and have five top-10s in five starts.
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Cydney Clanton, Auburn
"Now this is more like it" the 20-year-old from Concord, N.C., had to be thinking as she concluded her fall schedule with an individual victory at the NCAA Preview after posting a T-2 finish at the Mason Rudolph and a fifth-place showing at the Lady Tar Heel.
With her performances, Clanton reminded the college golf world of her impressive first season at Auburn in 2006-07, when she claimed national freshman-of-the-year honors, and helped everyone (including herself) look past a sophomore season where she had four top-five finishes but saw her average rise to 74.23.
"I just think it kind of all clicked," said Auburn women's coach Kim Evans regarding the difference in play this fall, when Clanton posted a 70.1 average. "I think she has better understanding of her game and how to play her game. Cyd has a lot of length, and there are certain holes that she really has to pay a lot of attention on. And I think it was learning her game. I just think [her game] kind of grew up."
If there was a particular moment that Evans looks back on most fondly from the fall, it was watching Clanton claim medalist honors at the NCAA Preview, posting three straight 70s at CC of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., site of next spring's NCAA Championship.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone play as well with her distance control," said the NGCA Hall of Fame coach. "It was just incredible, to see her truly work the ball, maybe take one more or one less club and work it into the area she needed to work it to. Just to watch her play those shots and play the game, it was a great tournament for me to watch her play. It wasn't about just killing a drive down there and hitting it close. She really was taking clubs and hitting shots and making it work on those greens."
It's for this reason that you can rationalize a player of Clanton's caliber being the mid-season's most improved golfer. The incremental improvement she made to return to the elite level of college golf is just as critical a leap as the one made by a player who drops her scoring average several strokes.
*Honorable mention: Lacey Agnew, Florida State
*Her T-64 finish at the NCAA Preview caused the senior to finish the fall on a down note. Still, the semester was a true success for Agnew, who finished second, T-5 and T-8 in her first three starts and closed the fall with a 73.50 average after coming into the 2009-10 season with a career average of 79.92.