A lot of things can happen in two years. Freshmen become upperclassmen. Good players cycle out of top programs. Long-awaited recruits join rosters. Facilities are planned, built, revamped. Coaches get on and off the carousel.
I’d been out of college golf for two years this August, and while getting back in the loop was comforting and familiar, for the most part, a few things stuck out to me as feeling different. Maybe these things are unique to this season, or maybe my memory is just bad. Here’s my take so far:
Are scores getting lower? This is my impression as I check Golfstat each week. So far this season, we’ve had a team tie the NCAA scoring record (Arkansas with 41 under at the Mason Rudolph) in its first event of the season. Last week, a player (Arizona’s Haley Moore) missed a putt to tie the individual NCAA record of 9 under. Teams are breaking their own scoring records over and over (Texas set and promptly broke it’s 18-hole record already this season). I like the low numbers.
The powerhouses are changing. Eight years ago, when I first started covering college golf, 90 percent of the conversations we had about top teams involved Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Duke. The more exciting storylines now are coming out of programs like Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Furman and Texas, teams that haven’t quite achieved that long-time “powerhouse” status. I like that there are more teams in the conversation now. When more teams can win these regular-season tournaments, more teams can win the postseason tournaments. National championships that aren’t a foregone conclusion are far more exciting.
A new LPGA Q-school format cannot come soon enough. How to tackle LPGA Q-School and when to turn pro still is an odd dance for college coaches and players, but at least a solution is coming. The tour announced plans last fall for a new qualifying event series that will end the current practice of college players leaving at the halfway point of the season to turn pro (the change is expected in 2018).
Scrolling through the Q-School Stage II entry list (Stage II is, by the way, approaching – it will be played Oct. 19-22) shows that an overwhelming number of the top players this year are chasing cards. Georgia, USC and Alabama each had two players qualify for the second stage. Duke’s senior stud Leona Maguire advanced, too. As always, we continue to wait and watch. I can’t wait until this practice ends.
The graphics are improving. For this, I give credit to the Sports Information Directors – those hard-working individuals who do so much in the late-night hours after golf tournaments end to promote their programs. The social-media work of these individuals is becoming much flashier. Kudos to them for the way they’re promoting their programs. This follower, at least, is noticing.
Photo shoots are a thing? Some of my favorite behind-the-scenes Tweets this season are outtakes from team photo shoots – costume (er, uniform) changes, spotlights, backdrops and all. Back in my day, we had one shot at a decent picture, taken at the golf course in our over-sized mock-necked uniforms. You just hoped your eyes were open and your hair was cooperating. I like the new trend much better.
Team 32 leaves its Magnolia mark
Ole Miss has a somewhat charming way of referring to its women’s golf teams – by number. And Team 32 appears to be a good one.
This Rebel women’s golf team won its first tournament in two years Oct. 3 – its own Magnolia Invitational at Old Waverly Golf Club. The numbers behind it are worth noticing. As the university noted, besides breaking a short winless streak, the Magnolia victory is the second in the last decade, No. 16 in program history and just the seventh in a 54-hole event. It’s the first victory under head coach Kory Henkes, who came to the program in June 2015 after a stint at Augusta State.
Ole Miss scored with freshman Julia Johnson, who became the first freshman in program history to earn a 54-hole tournament title. She had to win a playoff to do it (after a double-bogey at the 17th cost her a comfortable lead).
This new tournament marks the first time Ole Miss and Mississippi State have co-hosted at Old Waverly, a gem of a course that has hosted the SEC Championship and will host the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2019.
Information from Ole Miss Athletics used in this report
Indy women continue making waves across divisions
Make that three in a row for the University of Indianapolis, a team that’s quickly setting a new standard for NCAA Division II women’s college golf. The season started with victory at the Hounds’ home invitational, full of talent from their own division, then really took off when the team won the Ball State Cardinal Classic. It was the only Division II team in a Division I field. But Indy had done it again, this time winning the Butler Fall Invitational. That required beating seven Division I teams, as well as another Division II team in Indy’s conference.
The kind of scores Indy is posting to win these events is perhaps what’s most notable. Senior Kyle Raines set a new career mark of 67. As a team, Indy won at 19 over. When it won at Ball State, Indy was 1 under.
There will be several more chances for the Indy women to chart new territory as this fall season continues, but what I’ll be watching with the most interest doesn’t happen until April. Head coach Brent Nicoson has been taking his team to Ohio State’s Lady Buckeye Invitational these past few years. I’d like to see what this particular squad can do in a deep Division I field. It could surprise a lot of people.
Quote of the week
As I often say, we hear a lot about the Tiger generation, but the Annika generation is out there, too:
#collegegolf Tweet of the week
Tournament I'm watching
Where: The University of Texas GC, Austin, Texas (Oct. 9-10)
Teams: Texas, Kent State, Arizona State, San Diego State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Houston, Furman, SMU, Miami, UNLV, Texas Tech
Storyline: Arizona State tees it up in Texas off a win at the Windy City Collegiate last week, plus host Texas finally has all its stars in the lineup. Last week at the Annika, that meant a T4 with Furman (also in this field this week). I'm expecting a tight race among these three teams.