Signing day not what it used to be
Ryan Herrington runs down the players, teams and tournaments to watch in his weekly college golf notebook.
Although there isn't a single men's or women's college golf tournament scheduled to begin Nov. 8, the biggest day of the fall season for most every Division I team in the country is less than a week away. Nothing, you see, affects the health of a program -- and, in turn, the well-being of its coach -- more than recruiting, a sometimes arduous, occasionally ugly, often exhilarating process that comes to a head Wednesday when high school seniors can begin signing National Letters of Intent and officially announce where they'll play their college golf.
As recently as five years ago, this first day of the weeklong early signing period required coaches to keep a bottle of Pepto-Bismol at the ready as it came with an accompanying anxiety somewhere between standing over a 15-foot birdie to win a tournament and getting a root canal. Talk to coaches at major programs, however, and they'll tell you that although the signing day is no less important than in years past, today any tension or stress has come and gone already.
"Almost all the [top players] have made their decisions months ago, so there aren't many real surprises," said Clemson men's coach Larry Penley. "The biggest thing is making sure all the paperwork is done and that all the I's are dotted and T's crossed. It's a paper pushing week."
Rather than nervously sitting by her office phone and fax machine, Virginia women's coach Jan Mann actually was getting in a little R&R with her family this past week at their North Carolina beach house, taking her grandchildren out on Halloween.
That's not to say there isn't any last-minute grinding going on. Texas men's coach John Fields anticipates three recruits coming for their official campus visits this weekend, when they'll attend the Longhorns' home football game against Oklahoma State, among other activities. Even Fields, though, says this week isn't more harried than any other.
What has changed coaches' attitudes toward this week on the recruiting calendar has been the change in attitude of high schoolers toward making early unofficial commitments to schools. It's not unusual to hear of kids two or even three years away from stepping on a college campus already having pledged to attend a specific institute of higher learning. To wit: Philip Francis and Esther Choe, the recently named American Junior Golf Association players of the year, made verbal commitments to UCLA and Arizona, respectively, this past summer, removing any of the suspense that often accompanies signing day in college football or basketball.
Other top junior golfers also made it known long ago where they'll tee it up next fall: Rickie Fowler (Oklahoma State), Arnond Vongvanij (Florida), Kevin Tway (Oklahoma State) and Sihwan Kim (Stanford) on the men's side and Taylore Karle (Pepperdine), Megan Grehan (Vanderbilt) and Maria Jose Uribe (UCLA) on the women's.
"What we're working on right now is recruiting in the class of 2008," said Tennessee women's coach Judi Pavon. Fields concurs, saying that in the fall, 50 percent of recruiting time is devoted to high school seniors and 50 percent to the next year's class and younger.
With the fall tournament schedule winding down, college coaches will be on the recruiting trail in the next few months, attending the AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic at Sea Island GC and the Junior Orange Bowl in Miami, a prominent tournament that attracts many international players. "Recruiting is as critical as it ever was," Penley says. "It's just much more of a year-round process."
Bottom line: College golf coaches will be waiting with anticipation for those National Letters of Intent to come over their fax machines Nov. 8. Only a few who don't already know whose names will be on them, however, will be reaching for the Pepto.
Players of the Week
Jamie Lovemark, Southern California
A final-round 67 at Oregon's Pacific Dunes GC gave the freshman from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., a 4-under 209 total and an easy eight-shot victory at the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge. In three tournaments this fall, Lovemark has had two top-three finishes and done no worse than T-13, compiling a 71.33 stroke average.
Marisa Milligan, Auburn
The redshirt freshman didn't qualify for the Tigers' starting five at the Derby Invitational, but played as an individual and claimed medalist honors in the rain-shortened event, posting a 1-over 145. A birdie on the 17th hole at the Auburn University Club in the final round helped her card a 1-under 71 and beat teammate Nicole Hage and North Carolina's Lauren Hunt by one stroke for her first college title in only her second career start.
The Fab Five
The top five teams right now in the country:
For the first time in school history, the Crimson Tide are tops in all four major polls (Golf World, Golfweek/Sagarin, GCAA/Bridgestone, Golfstat).
2. Oklahoma State
Who needs Pablo Martin and Jonathan Moore? The Cowboys showed their depth with a victory at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play.
The Bruins get a bit of a pass for their T-7 performance at the Match Play. Expect them to bounce back as they host the CordeValle Collegiate (see below).
For the second time in four seasons, the Gators record top-five finishes in each of their fall starts.
The Cardinal's 15-under total at last month's Prestige was their fourth-best showing in school history.
The Bulldogs record for best single-season scoring average by an individual is Angela Jerman's 72.91 set in 2001-02. At the midway point of the 2006-07 season, Whitney Wade (72.33) and Taylor Leon (71.55) are already on pace to break the mark.
This week marks the first time the Blue Devils aren't the No. 1 seed when playing in the Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship.
3. Arizona State
The Sun Devils, second to Oklahoma State at this week's Las Vegas Founders Collegiate Showdown, are getting their tee shots in the fairway nearly 80 percent of the time and hitting greens in regulation at an almost 67 percent clip.
Sophomore Jacqui Concolino (three top-10s this fall; worst finish: T-11) could be the most underrated women's golfer in the country.
The Tigers withstood tough weather at their home event, never letting challengers get a real chance to steal away the Derby Invitational title.
Stat of the Week
15 Worst individual finish by a Tulsa men's golfer (junior Ryan Henry) during the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, N.C. Junior Mitch Cohlmia and freshman Nicolas Geyger shared medalist honors, and junior Brett Myers and junior Sam Korbe had top-five showings. Not surprisingly, the Golden Hurricane managed to win the team title -- by 26 shots -- giving the school back-to-back victories for the first time since spring 1998.
What To Watch For
• There are big wins in college golf, and then there are big wins, and two of the latter came in the past week. John Fields says he sensed a different attitude with this year's Texas men's squad even before the Longhorns won their first team title since 2004 at the Isleworth/UCF Collegiate. Still, the 12-shot win over one of the deepest fields of the fall season will allow his players to enjoy the winter break on a positive note and help quiet rumblings of Texas' long-term downfall.
"We've taken some pretty strong blows from our competitors," Fields told Campus Insider. "Out in the recruiting world, we've had people saying one thing or another. I think people thought we were dead, and we're not. We're not dead."
The Longhorns might have gotten their breakthrough victory earlier if not for a scorecard error at last month's Jerry Pate National Collegiate (freshman standout Lance Lopez signed for the wrong number, forcing Texas to drop his 66 in favor of a 73; the Longhorns finished third overall, nine shots back of winner Alabama). Fields said the team didn't dwell on the mishap, had its best qualifier in five years before the Isleworth tournament, then rode the momentum to Orlando. In addition to Lopez (72.13 stroke average), seniors Farren Keenan (72.5) and Jhonattan Vegas (71.83) have had solid falls, as has Matt Bortis (71.83), a transfer from Arkansas.
"I think that [the last few seasons] we had kind of a selfish attitude that persisted among several players that was kind of infectious and just precluded us from creating the kind of atmosphere you'd want around your golf team," Fields said. "Without dwelling on that too much, I'm just thankful being where I am right now and with the guys that I'm coaching right now. There is a lot of good things that are about to happen with this program."
Meanwhile, the Virginia women might have needed a tiebreaker to claim victory after being caught by Michigan State in the final round of the Landfall Tradition, but coach Jan Mann will take it, considering it means the Cavaliers finally have that historic first win in program history out of the way. In three-and-a-half years since her team's debut, Mann has built her team into a national power, but she needed this group to finish off the job and take home some hardware if her players were to have complete confidence they could compete with the best squads in the country.
"I think this team knew they were good enough to win, but this definitely solidifies it for them," Mann says. "It's very special."
Even better is that they hung on despite a poor start in the final round at the Nicklaus Course at the Landfall Tradition. Had UVa let it slip away, it would have been a long fall in Charlottesville.
• Colonial Country Club and the Friends of Golf, in cooperation with the Golf Coaches Association of America, last week announced the 23 players who made the "watch list" for the 2007 Ben Hogan Award. There aren't any real surprises, although I wonder about the prudence of announcing this list so early in the season. Recall that in the 2003-04 season, Spencer Levin didn't tee it up for New Mexico until the spring semester and eventually played his way into the running for national player of the year honors. There's a risk that could happen again here, not so much from a player who didn't play during the fall, but rather from one who didn't play well enough to win but then catches fire in the spring. What about someone such as Texas A&M's Bronson Burgoon, Alabama's Joseph Sykora or Vanderbilt's Luke List? All three have shown potential for All-American caliber seasons. For my money, though, the player Colonial CC, FOG and the GCAA might regret not having on the list is BYU's Daniel Summerhays, who hasn't finished worse than T-7, has broken par in six of his nine rounds and has a 69.67 stroke average entering next week's Pacific Invitational.
Tournament to Watch
When: Nov. 6-7
Where: CordeValle CC, San Martin, Calif.
Field: Arizona, Arkansas, Augusta State, California, Coastal Carolina, Lamar, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, South Carolina, Stanford, TCU, UCLA, USC, Washington
Defending champion: UCLA (15-under 849); Michael Wilson, California (10-under 206)
Skinny: In the event's 2005 debut, UCLA's Erik Flores had his coming-out party as the then freshman made five birdies on the inward nine en route to a final-round 68 to help the Bruins capture the team title by six shots over Northwestern.
For more reporting on college golf from Golf World senior writer Ryan Herrington, visit his Campus Insider blog.
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