OK … we’ve let the Duke women and the Oklahoma State men enjoy their respective NCAA titles for long enough now. (What you want more than a month to bask in your glory? What about that old saying, “you’re only as good as your next tournament win.”) There’s no time like the present to begin to look ahead to next September and the start of the 2006-07 college season.
Lets look at the men’s side and get a idea of who some of the top squads will be next fall, as well as some of the players to watch. (Tomorrow, I’ll do the same for the women). Additionally, I thought it might be interesting to look back at Golf World’s “fearless” predictions from last September, specifically looking at the players highlighted as the top-10 entering the school year, to see how we fared. Look for this in the coming days ...
__My VERY, VERY, VERY early top-10 for the 2006-07 season:
Coach Mike McGraw will no doubt learn the next toughest thing to replacing a coaching legend (Mike Holder) and winning a title is repeating the feat. That said, the Cowboys have plenty of talent to get the job done. For starters, they return all but fifth-year senior Zack Robinson from line-up that just won the national championship team, notably NCAA individual champ Jonathan Moore and national player of the year Pablo Martin. (Incidentally, two days after nationals the two roommates in Stillwater fought it out for a spot in the U.S. Open. Click here for the article on how they had to play each other in a sudden-death playoff in Oregon, won by Moore.)
Ryan Posey, a senior-to-be who played only two tournaments this past year, just qualified for the U.S. Open himself and can step into the starting five. While not playing this past season, Zac Reynolds has 13 starts to his credit and could fight for a spot. Incoming freshmen include Chris Ward, who played in the 2005 U.S. Amateur, and Matt Jager, Australian junior golfer of the year in 2005.
A young Bruins squad got a boost from a pair of standout freshmen—Erik Flores and James Lee—this past season and with no seniors on the 2005-06 roster, O.D. Vincent’s team should be in prime position to make a title run. The current roster includes defending Pac-10 champ Daniel Im, one of four players to post top-five finishes. Chris Heintz was returning to form at the end of the season and Lucas Lee and Kevin Chappell also provide depth.
If you were going to get your revenge on the Tigers, who slumped in 2004 and 2005 after two decades worth of stellar play capped by their 2003 NCAA title, you should have done it by now because Larry Penley’s team is built for the future. The squad returns all but one player next fall, including all five starters from this year’s group that went to nationals. Four of the five freshmen from 2005-06 (David May, Vince Hatfield, Tanner Ervin and Phillip Mollica) played in at least five tournaments, giving solid experience. Meanwhile, Clemson might have the best incoming one-two punch in freshmen-to-be Kyle Stanley, a standout player from Gig Harbour, Wash., and Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson with some game of his own. So excited about the upcoming season is Clemson that the 2006-07 roster is already up on its website.
The Bulldogs held the No. 1 ranking throughout the 2005-06 season but struggled on the greens at Sunriver’s Crosswater Club. The three returning starters are all top-rate—first-team All-American Chris Kirk, second-team All-American Brian Harman and honorable mention All-American Brandon Todd—and coach Chris Haack has two sophomores-to-be in reserve in Adam Mitchell and Michael Green, who would have started for almost any other team this past season. Meanwhile, four incoming freshmen should help keep the rest of the team on its toes during qualifiers.
It’s hard to explain just what happened to the Yellow Jackets at the NCAA Championship, but their dismal showing at Sunriver (27 over par; 26th place) put a bitter taste on an otherwise impressive season. The bright spot is that Cameron Tringale continued to shine, posting an eighth-place finish individually to wrap up an impressive freshman season that saw him win two titles, including the ACC crown. Coach Bruce Heppler’s biggest challenge will be helping Roberto Castro regain the form that had him earn first-team All-American honors in 2005. A senior-to-be, Castro posted no finish better than T-16 since February and shot a dismal 77-84-78 at nationals after finishing third at the Crosswater Club during September’s Ping Preview.
Another team that surprised at nationals because of their poor showing, the Rebels have the talent to bounce back, even with losing Andres Gonzales to graduation. Look for Jarred Texter and Seung-Su Han to step up and Blake Trimble and Matt Kinsinger to improve as well. Dwaine Knight also has Canadian junior champ Mitchell Fox and AJGA All-American Roberto Galletti, Jr., arriving in the fall to bolster the lineup.
This was supposed to be the rebuilding year for the Wildcats, with J.B. Holmes and his bash brothers gone from Lexington. Impressively, Brian Craig’s squad got stronger as the year went on, with Andy Winings and Dan Woltman playing better than expected as freshmen. UK loses just one senior and continues to attract converts who only followed the sport where you put the ball through a hoop rather than in a hole.
Not surprising that on a roster that has no Americans in its starting five, the two top recruits are a pair of Irishmen in Niall Kearney and Seamus Power. The duo joins a roster that returns all its starters and is anchored by one of the college game’s top players in Rhys Davies. The Welshman wants to play on a second GB&I Walker Cup team next year, and thus will stay for his senior season, and be a national player of the year candidate for coach Fred Warren.
Coach Jerry Haas insisted at the end of nationals that Demon Deacons golf was “alive and kicking,” but replacing talented graduating seniors Kyle Reifers and Doug Manchester won’t be easy. Sean Moore, a former ACC champion will have to turn up his leadership dial, as will Webb Simpson. Joining the team in the fall will be Travis Wadkins, son of famous alumni__Lanny Wadkins__, and__Brendan Gielow__, who should help fill the void.
Time to see just how good a coach Buddy Alexander really is as he tried to replace four-year senior starters Matt Every, Brett Stegmaier and James Vargas. “We’re going to have a lot of babies,” he noted last week at Sunriver, referring to the four incoming freshmen, a group that includes his son, Tyson. Working in his favor is the fact that he found a diamond in the rough in Billy Horschel, who was a first-team All-American as a freshman in 2005-06. But he’s going to have to get more out of sophomore-to-be Toby Ragland, last year’s No. 5 man. If Jessie Mudd can regain the form he had his freshman year before redshirting the 2004-05 season with a right-ankle injury, that will also help the Gators from having a drop-off in 2006-07.
Top Five players to watch
Unless, of course, the La Quinta, Calif., native decides to turn pro this summer, a very possible scenario given his on-again, off-again relationship with Sooner coach Jim Ragan. Their status right now is OK, but that was supposed to be the case at this time last year too. Still, if Kim does comeback and focuses on golf, there isn’t another player with the all-around talent.
__ 2. Pablo Martin, Oklahoma State, junior__
The Spaniard is only getting better after earning first-team All-American honors the past two seasons.
The amazing turn-around from only 12 months ago continues for the Vancouver, Wash., native. Don’t be surprised if he returns to Stillwater next September with a major amateur trophy in his shag bag.
4. Chris Kirk, Georgia, senior
Unassuming and quiet, the 21-year-old finished out of the top-20 just once in 12 starts this past season. This isn’t the last you’ll hear from Kirk.
Tells you how much talent the two-time AJGA player of the year when making second-team All-American honors is almost a disappointment. Don’t look for this Lefty to have any sort of sophomore slump.