Passing out mid-season honors
The first half of the 2007-08 campaign has come and gone. With roughly eight weeks to catch their breathe before beginning the spring march to the NCAA Championship, players and programs must assess where they stand overall and consider how to repeat any success from the fall or recover from a disappointing start to the season.
And just who, exactly, will be doing the repeating and who is looking at recovering? Gaze no further than Golf World's third annual Mid-Season Award package, a compendium that serves as both a review of the season to date and a primer for what's to come when players tee it up again in late January. Each day we'll reveal another award winner in men's and women's college golf, culminating with the Mid-Season Player of the Year honorees and All-American teams.
Today we begin with the Biggest Surprises (in a good way) from the fall.
__BIGGEST SURPRISE: PLAYER
Stefan Wiedergruen__, Charlotte
Maybe the fact that the junior from Waiblingen, Germany had a 72.5 stroke average a year ago (yet wasn't able to crack the 49ers line-up at the East Regional or NCAA Championship) should have hinted at his latent potential. Still, to have seen this coming—a 69.83 stroke average, two wins (including a victory at the Golfweek/Ping Preview) and a runner-up finish in four stroke-play starts this fall—would have taken more than a magic eight-ball.
According to Wiedergruen, some summer work on his short game helped him shore up a weakness that kept him from starting last postseason. "He could have and, who knows, maybe even should have been in the lineup at the end of the year," noted Charlotte coach Jamie Green earlier this fall. "He was certainly motivated [by missing out on playing at nationals]."
Honorable mention: Chesson Hadley, Georgia Tech
Proved solid finish to 2007 season (T-9 at ACC, seventh at East Regionals, T-4 at NCAAs) was no fluke with a win and two other top-six finishes this fall, while posting a 69.78 average.
So-Hyun Park __, Notre Dame
While the South Korean native who attended the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida figured to make the Fighting Irish's starting five even as a freshman, her impact went beyond what most people expected. In five starts, the 19-year-old has finished no worse than T-7, winning the Napa River Grill Cardinal Cup and finishing second at the Cougar Classic and Ann Rhodes Intercollegiate.
Park has been dubbed "Nintendo" because "when you watch her play she's pretty much on auto-pilot," according to ND coach Susan Holt.
"To be honest, I just stay out of her way," Holt noted. "First tee it's like 'Have great day.' I see her on the par 3s and I drive around and ask her if she needs anything to eat or drink. And there have been a couple of times when she's motioned me over to ask my thoughts on a shot, but otherwise I let her be."
So far, so good.
Honorable mention: Laura Kueny, Michigan State
Missed last spring because of academics, but the sophomore has bounced back with a win and two other runner-up finishes in four fall starts.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: TEAM
More than a few people viewed the 49ers' No. 10 ranking in the Golf World/Nike Golf preseason poll as one last tip of the cap to a team finishing a school-best third at the NCAA Championship in 2007. As for the 49ers themselves, however, they considered it a bit insulting, considering that six of the seven returning players had stroke averages of 73.6 of lower a year ago. So it was that Charlotte went from last season's Cinderella story to this year's national power after winning its first three tournaments, including the Ping/Golfweek Preview at Purdue's Kampen Course, site of next spring's NCAA Championship, to claim its first No. 1 ranking in school history.
With another "mid-major" program cementing a place in the top-25, Jamie Green's squad has caused some to wonder if we're beyond thinking of small schools that have big results as actual "surprises." "It would be silly to compare us to the Georgias and Oklahoma States and UCLAs in terms of the history of the program," Green said earlier this fall. "That's just obvious. But where I think we are and where we can continue to be, is that I would take our five guys, whatever five guys we go to a tournament with, compete on any golf course and see how we stack up against any team. In this place and time right now, in that way, then we are beyond that."
As if anyone needed more proof, Charlotte closed the fall with a fourth tournament title at Pacific Invitational, the 14th victory for the 49ers since the fall 2004.
Honorable mention:__ Penn State
Two wins and five top-five finishes give Nittany Lions fans reason to roar.
Notre Dame __
Outsiders who shrugged off the Fighting Irish to start the season because of the team's youth—the seven-player roster has just one junior and one senior—may well have mistook age for immaturity. Not so, says second-year coach Susan Holt, who was impressed with just how responsible a group she had in South Bend even before they won their first three tournaments of the fall and claimed a spot in the Golf World/NGCA's top 25.
"I had a team meeting this year at the beginning of the year," Holt says, "and instead of me telling them what the goals were and what I expected of them, I asked them what they expected of themselves. I wanted them to tell me what their goals were. And I took it one step further and asked them what kind of behaviors were they going to have to have on a daily basis to achieve the goals. And I think that was the key to it all. It really held them accountable on a daily basis as to what they knew they were going to have to do. They bought into it and stuck to it."
While junior Lisa Mauna (medalist at the Cougar Classic) and sophomores Annie Brophy and Kristin Wetzel have shined, the addition of first-year players So-Hyun Park and Katie Conway have provided a lift. Says Holt: "I really think this freshman class put us on the fast track to really get us there maybe a little sooner than we anticipated. And the upperclassmen embraced that."
Honorable mention: California
Unranked in the preseason, now a solid top-15 team with a win and four top-fives.
NEXT MID-SEASON AWARD:
Biggest Surprises (in the wrong direction)