One of my favorite details about college golf, which dates back to my days playing it, is that it’s a split season. The fall season, to me, has always been about sizing up teams and players to get an idea of what’s coming in the championship season. Here’s a recap of the sizing up I did the past few months:
8. Ole Miss is good.
In terms of setting personal bests and breaking program records, Ole Miss gets that award. The Rebels won their first golf tournament in two years – their own Magnolia Invitational at Old Waverly Golf Club. Better yet, Ole Miss took that momentum and went on to win the next two events. That’s a program-record tying three victories under second-year head coach Kory Henkes. Program records for GPA, rounds at even or under par and rounds in the 60s were also broken. And while we’re highlighting the strengths of Ole Miss golf, I’d like to repeat my praise for whoever is doing the graphics for this program. They’re among the best in college golf.
7. Richmond’s undefeated streak.
Halfway through October, Richmond was the last undefeated team in women’s college golf. The Spiders won the Navy Fall Invitational, the Boston College Intercollegiate and the Bill Berg Invitational to start the fall, climbed to an unprecedented No. 69 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and found a new level of confidence. The season ended in a 12th-place finish at the Louisville-hosted Cardinal Cup. It ended the streak, but Richmond’s story has been about more than just winning.
6. PXG giveth…and giveth equally.
PXG, golf’s elite new equipment company, is good at marketing. But the company’s decision to provide 10 custom sets apiece to the men’s and women’s golf teams at six Division I schools (Vanderbilt, Duke, Cal, Oklahoma, Oregon and SMU) sends a message that’s bigger than smart marketing (though well done once again, PXG). It sets a precedent for equipment companies to provide equally for both men’s and women’s programs.
5. NCAAs get a semi-permanent home
A national-championship format that features both match-play and television, for men and women, means a two-week blackout period for any course willing to host the NCAA finals. It’s a lot to ask of a venue, but so far, quality courses continue to step up. That’s why securing Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., as a permanent venue from 2020-22 both satisfies a need and sparks a debate. A recurring location is certainly a positive for TV, and it provides some peace of mind for tournament organizers. It’s arguably a big positive for West Coast teams (most notably, Arizona State as the home teams), too, which raises a concern for teams around the rest of the country. While rotating venues seems more fair, we might have reached a situation where it’s hard to have the cake and eat it, too.
4. Indy puts D2 golf on the map.
Indianapolis, the NCAA Division II team that won the national championship in 2015, never lost in the fall. That’s mildly spectacular in itself, but it’s really noteworthy when you look at the Hounds’ schedule. Two of Indy’s five starts were in Division I fields. Looking ahead to spring, the most interesting tournament to watch Indy compete in will be the Lady Buckeye Invitational, which is hosted by Ohio State and will have deep Division I talent.
3. The decision.
I’ve covered the final stage of LPGA Q-School eight times in the past nine years, but never have I seen such agonizing deliberation as this year, when Oklahoma State senior Maddie McCrary had to choose between a final semester of college golf and partial LPGA status. Generally, by the time a college player reaches that point, she knows what she will say if status (that usually means a full card) is on the line. (For those unfamiliar with the process, a player has to turn professional immediately to accept any status earned through Q-School.) McCrary said she had thought about the decision, but something in the moment made her hesitate. When she eventually turned pro, McCrary left behind the very real possibility that she would have gone out playing the national championship at Oklahoma State’s home golf course, Karsten Creek, with three other senior teammates. I won’t be sorry to see this situation minimized starting next year with the creation of the LPGA Q-Series, which bars all but the top 5-ranked college players from entering what used to be “final stage.”
2. USC reloads.
Trojan standouts Robynn Ree and Muni He seemed to have a lot less reserve about leaving their program at the end of Q-School. Ree did it for a full card, and He followed suit a few days later (with only Symetra Tour status) then immediately played the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. USC had a short roster of five in the fall anyway, but won two tournaments despite that. I’m always amazed at how coaches are able to scramble to reload their rosters in situations like these. USC coach Andrea Gaston will have U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Jennifer Chang, Australian Gabriela Ruffels and New Zealander Amelia Garvey in the lineup when the spring begins.
1. Arkansas is really good.
Only recently did I realize how much the Arkansas program has going for it – much of which is directly attributable to the coaching savvy of Shauna Estes-Taylor. She has cultivated a strong pipeline to the LPGA with the help of alumna Stacy Lewis, and has the recruiting vision necessary for a school somewhat buried in the Ozark Mountains. The NCAAs are coming to Fayetteville, Ark. (on one of the coolest college courses I’ve ever seen) in a year and a half, and the Razorbacks could be a big player. They could be a big player this year, too, considering they won three of four fall tournaments and tied an NCAA scoring record the first time out. Arkansas used to live in the 80-100 neighborhood of the college rankings, but they ended the fall No. 3.