Question marks for the spring
There are actually many uncertainties that could have a large impact on how the rest of the 2007-08 season plays out. Will UCLA, Alabama, Georgia, Charlotte or any other team for that matter separate themselves on the men's side? Will anyone give Duke's Amanda Blumenherst and Arkansas' Stacy Lewis a run at women's player of the year? What exactly constitutes "a tournament" in men's golf any more?
At any rate, here are a couple more to ponder.
__BIGGEST QUESTION MARK FOR THE SPRING: PLAYER
Billy Horschel__, Florida
About the only thing that matches the junior's cockiness is his talent--see his 70.5 stroke average this fall. That said, will the soon-to-be 21-year-old from Grant, Fla., be able to stay focused enough to make a run at first-team All-American honors for a third straight year?
Rumors that Horschel might leave school after this season to turn pro are likely to follow him (not to mention NCAA champion Jamie Lovemark of USC) throughout the spring. Even merely contemplating such a decision could become a distraction; just ask Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw how productive Pablo Martin and Jonathan Moore were a year ago.
Horschel can become just the second UF golfer to win SEC player of the year honors twice with a solid spring (joining Camilo Villegas). Moreover, Florida hasn't won the conference title since 2003, the longest dry-spell under coach Buddy Alexander. Says here that Horschel will be up to the challenge this spring, but only time will tell for certain.
Honorable mention: Philip Francis, UCLA
Jennifer Osborn__, Arizona State
The knock on the Sun Devils last season was that they didn't have a reliable No. 5 player to give Nos. 1 through 4 some room for error (see the NCAA Championship, when the Sun Devils finished in 13th place). This fall, however, it was the junior from Huntington Beach, Calif., a first-team All-American with seven top-10 finishes in 2006-07, who seemed inconsistent. In the first three tournaments of the fall, she finished no better than T-20. Finally at the Stanford Invitational, the final event of the fall, she seemed to return to form with a runner-up showing.
So which player can coach Melissa Luellen expect come the spring? Again, we'll lean on the side that says Osborn writes off the fall (she did have a 72.75 final-round stroke average) and becomes the steady player we've come to expect for the second-ranked team in the country. To do that, however, she's got to improve on her 57.6 percent driving accuracy.
Honorable mention: Caroline Westrup, Florida State
A first-team All-American last season but who has yet to post a top-10 finish. Is the Swede's sophomore slump merely coming a year later than one would expect?
__BIGGEST QUESTION MARK FOR THE SPRING: TEAM
The Tigers, coming off a disappointing 2006-07 season in which they went winless, finished in the top five only four times in 11 starts and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship for only the second time in 25 years, started the 2007-08 campaign equally shaky (last among the four U.S. teams at the Topy Cup; 13th at the Carpet Capital) before salvaging the fall with runner-up showings at the Brickyard Collegiate and Isleworth-UCF Invitational. So which team can coach Larry Penley expect to see this spring?
Sophomore All-American candidate Kyle Stanley, a 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team member, will have gotten some much needed rest when the season resumes in Puerto Rico in February. Still, he needs help from a supporting cast (junior David May and sophomores Luke Hopkins and Sam Saunders) that has been inconsistent. All have stroke averages of 74.17 or better, yet the Tigers have an average drop score of 77.86, second highest among schools ranked in the top 20.
Honorable mention: Arizona
Could the .500 rule keep the Wildcats from a 22nd straight appearance in the NCAA Championship? If the postseason started today, the answer is yes.
What happens when your anchor suddenly floats away? That's what the Gators will have to find out this spring when they play without senior All-American Sandra Gal, who competed in the LPGA Tour Qualifying School as an amateur this past weekend, finished T-14 to earn a card and decided to turn pro. Prior to all this, there was plenty of optimism in Gainesville when the Gators, who started the 2007-08 season ranked 15th, impressed with a victory at the Mercedes-Benz Championship and four other top-five finishes to close the fall with a No. 5 ranking.
"Sandra is the type of player that can help you to win championships," Florida women's coach Jill Briles-Hinton said of her former star, who was medalist at the Mercedes event, one of three top-15 finishes she posted in the fall. "The coaches are here to teach kids that have a burning desire to be the best they can be, and Sandra is that type of player. She gave me everything she had and always did everything she needed to do to be prepared on the golf course."
The good news for Gators fans is while losing Gal, who ranked No. 9 in Golf World's preseason players to watch list, the team still has two seniors--Whitney Myers (73.25 average, three top-20s) and Tiffany Chudy--with lots of playing experience that the team can rely on. Freshman Jessica Yadloczky (73.42, two top-10) also seemed to make a easy transition to the college game, giving Briles-Hinton hope. Additionally, when Gal was out of the line-up at the UK Wildcat Invitational in October, four players finished in the top 11 as the team recorded a second-place showing. That said, replacing a player who had a 72.5 stroke average the last year and a half is a tall task, indeed.
Honorable mention:__ Pepperdine
From Tamie Durdin to Lindsay Wright__and Katherine Hull__ to Eileen Vargas__and Carolina Llano__ to Misun Cho, the Waves always have had go-to players coach Laurie Gibbs knew she could count on. Can freshman Taylore Karle fill the role?
NEXT MID-SEASON AWARD:
Coach of the (half) year