By Ryan Herrington
I've done my best to assess as many players as I can to see who among college golf's populace has made the biggest strides this fall. It's inherently a subjective endeavor, and I admittedly shy away from some high-profile names to help recognize the efforts of others who have put in the time and effort to lower their stroke averages and climb up leader boards.
With that, here are some players whose games have taken more than simply a step or two forward but full strides this fall.
__MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE MID-SEASON
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Wilson McDonald, UAB
The 21-year-old from Mobile, Ala., finished his junior season last spring with a 75.1 season average (his career best) after carding his low 36- and 54-hole scores en route to a T-2 at the Old Waverly Championship in April (his first and only top 10 as a college golfer). Fast forward to this fall, where after the first four events of his senior season, McDonald has posted a 69.8 average and four top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.
"It's a big relief," McDonald said of grabbing his first college title. "It's one of the biggest goals I have had since I was a freshman here. To finally get it is a big accomplishment for me."
Honorable mention (tie): Mark Anguiano, CSU-Fullerton
The senior from Whittier, Calif., closed the fall season with the best stroke average in D-I golf—68.17—with no finish worse than T-3 in four starts and no round worse than 71 in 12 played. Previously Anguiano's best single-season average was 72.59 in 2011-12 and his career mark entering the fall was 73.62.
Even Russell, Hartford
The sophomore from Grantham, N.H., leads the country in birdies with 82 this fall, helping him post a 69.18 stroke average. By comparison Russell made 71 total during his freshman season when he had a 73.06 average.
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Alison Knowles, ULM
The sophomore from England was a three-time winner this fall and matched the lowest round shot by any D-I player in the first semester—a 64 at the Lady Red Wolf Classic in the second round—as she posted a 71.54 average in five events. This comes after a freshman season in which she had a 76.82 average and never broke 71 in 28 rounds. Her worst showing of the fall: T-12 at the Mary Fossum Invitational. Her performances also have been key to the rise of the Lady WarHawks program as a whole, the team having won three titles and finished runner-up in a fourth event during the fall semester.
Photo: Jeremy Stevens
Honorable mention: Laura Restrepo, Louisville
Another international golfer who showed the opposite of a sophomore slump this fall. Her 71.7 average and four top-10 finishes led the way for the Cardinals as the Panama native won two individual titles. This comes after a freshman season in which she had just one top-10 showing and finished with a 76.3 average, third best on the Louisville roster.