PLAYER OF THE (MID-)YEAR
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Peter Uihlein, Oklahoma State
That this decorated junior golfer out of the Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is playing as well as he is right now--wins this fall at the Ping/Golfweek Invitational and at the Gifford, a T-3 at Isleworth, a 70.58 stroke average--as a sophomore isn't that big a surprise. It's the route that he's taken to get to the top of the college world that stops you. This time a year ago, Uihlein struggled simply breaking 80 during practices at Karsten Creek. Acclimating to college took a little longer than anticipated for the two-time AJGA player of the year.
When his game finally started to turn around last spring, however, we've seen the Uihlein we all had expected. If the close of his freshman season wasn't a sign of things to come (four top-10s, including second at the Central Regional), his quarterfinal finish at the U.S. Amateur followed by his 4-0 performance for the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team certainly served notice.
It's often interesting to watch how an elite player reacts when the consistent improvement in his game suddenly stops. Is it panic? Is it the realization that this game can be humbling? While certainly frustrated with his play last fall, Uihlein didn't do the former and accepted the latter. If his game hasn't matured since arriving at Stillwater, Uihlein himself certainly has.
*Honorable mention: Dustin Garza, Wichita State
*You can't say that Garza's performance this fall was out of nowhere, considering last fall he won three times and had two runner-up finishes. This time around, however, he has amazingly topped himself, winning outright or sharing medalist honors at four of five tournaments. If not for a double bogey on the final hole yesterday in El Paso, the senior from Mission, Texas, would have also captured the title at the Western Refining All-American.
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Jennifer Song, USC
I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing the 19-year-old sophomore had played at the NCAA Preview last month rather than accept the invitation to play in an LPGA tournament back in South Korea. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge her for playing in the pro event. I simply wanted to see what she might have done on the CC of Landfall course that will host next year's NCAA Championship, particularly after her impressive performances in her two college starts this fall.
Indeed, Song's stats (67.4 average, 88.1 percent of fairways hit, 85.6 GIR, 35.1 percent birdie conversion rate) are amazing. Then again when you win the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Women's Amateur in the same summer, you know you've got a lot of game. Song's win at the rain-shortened Mason Rudolph event in September included 12 birdies and no bogeys in 36 holes, matching 66s giving her a three-shot victory. At the Stanford Intercollegiate, Song finally made a bogey, but only five and with matching 67s in her first and third rounds, she cruised to another three-shot win.
It's hard to even remember, now, how Song was so nervous just a few months ago that she would never win a tournament, having come in second four times as a freshman at USC and then blowing the chance to win the NCAA title with a double bogey on the final hole. Again, the most interesting thing for me as an outside observer is to see how elite players handle adversity. USC women's coach Andrea Gaston assured me that Song would only get stronger because of all her near misses. Suffice it to say, that wasn't just coaching speak. Song indeed has improved, immensely even, which is pretty incredible considering how good she already was. No matter if this spring semester is the last for Song as a college player, as speculation suggests, it should be fun to watch her play.
*Honorable mention: Cydney Clanton, Auburn
*A 70.1 average and victory at the NCAA Preview make the junior from Concord, N.C., a very worthy adversary for Song--or any other golfer trying to win national player of the year honors. Clanton's confidence is extremely high and with teammate Candace Schepperle pushing her in practice each day, you get the feeling Clanton isn't going to rest on any laurels come spring.
GOLF WORLD MID-SEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAMS
72.19 avg., 3 starts, 1 win (Isleworth), 3 top-6s
Derek Ernst, UNLV
70.31 avg., 5 starts, 2 wins (Tucker, Herb Wimberly), 4 top-7s
Dustin Garza, Wichita State
70.27 avg., 5 starts, 4 wins (UTA, Wolfpack, Bill Ross, Scenic City)
Cody Gribble, Texas
70.80 avg., 4 starts, 3 top-3s
J.T. Griffin, Georgia Tech
70.20 avg., 4 starts, 3 top-4s
Sihwan Kim, Stanford
71.33 avg., 4 starts, 2 runner-ups, 3 top-8s
Espen Kofstad, Denver
71.13 avg., 5 starts, 3 top-3s, 5 top-8s
Ben Kohles, Virginia
70.80 avg., 5 starts, 1 win (Maryland), 4 top-10s
Kelly Kraft, SMU
69.77 avg., 5 starts, 1 win (Gopher), 4 top-5s
David Lingmerth, Arkansas
70.77 avg., 5 starts, 4 top-4s
Peter Uihlein, Oklahoma State
70.58 avg., 4 starts, 2 wins (Golfweek/Ping Invite, Gifford), 3 top-3s
Diego Velasquez, Oregon State
69.27 avg., 4 starts, 1 win (Ridges), no finish worse than T-3
Marina Alex, Vanderbilt
__ 70.00 avg., 4 starts, 2 runner-ups, 4 top-7s
__Amy Anderson, North Dakota State
__ 73.40 avg., 4 starts, 2 wins (Chip-N-Club, No. Arizona), 4 top-7s
__Laura Anderson, Louisville
__ 71.87 avg., 5 starts, 1 win (Ptarmigan Ram), 1 playoff loss, 4 top-6s
__Cydney Clanton, Auburn
__ 70.10 avg., 3 starts, 1 win (NCAA Preview), 3 top-5s
__Jodi Ewart, New Mexico
__ 71.17 avg., 4 starts, 2 runner-ups, no finish worse than T-12
__Numa Gulyanamitta, Purdue
__ 71.92 avg., 4 starts, 3 top-5s, 4 top-7s
__Sara-Maude Juneau, Louisville
__ 71.07 avg., 5 starts, 2 wins (Napa River, Tar Heel), 4 top-4s
__Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Purdue
__ 71.57 avg., 3 starts, 2 wins (Lady Northern, Windy City)
__Kendra Little, Oregon
__ 72.83 avg., 4 starts, 2 wins (Dick McGuire, OSU), 3 top-7s
__Nathalie Mansson, Tennessee
__ 71.90 avg., 4 starts, 2 wins (Mercedes-Benz, Alamo), 3 top-10s
__Kristina Merkle, Tulsa
__ 72.40 avg., 4 starts, 1 win (Johnnie Imes), 4 top-5s
__Jennifer Song, USC
__ 67.40 avg., 2 starts, 2 wins (Mason Rudolph, Stanford)