Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll take a look back at the main storylines in college golf.
Biggest takeaway: Alabama still has a realistic shot at the three-peat
Keep in mind that hasn’t happened since Houston in the mid-1960s. At Graeme McDowell’s event in Alabama, the Crimson Tide held the 36-hole lead before a nine-shot swing on the final day with North Florida. Among the four counters, the Tide shot a combined 7 over on the back nine to squander an opportunity for its first title of the season – a finish that was a “disaster,” according to coach Jay Seawell.
With the senior core no longer in Tuscaloosa, it was clear that this Alabama team wasn’t going to be as strong as in years’ past. But these mistakes are better made in October than May, and, diminished or not, this is still a top-5 program. Sophomore Robby Shelton remains one of the top two players in college golf, and senior Tom Lovelady, the team’s No. 5 man a year ago, earned his best career finish (2nd) at Shoal Creek. Bet on the Tide hitting its stride come springtime.
Team of the week: Wake Forest
Three Wake players finished in the top 10 as the Demon Deacons shot 38 under par – one shot off the school record – during the three-round event to edge Auburn by a shot. It was a stark departure to the team’s first outing, an eighth-place finish at the loaded Carpet Capital. Junior Davis Womble has opened his 2014-15 campaign with back-to-back top-10s, Paul McBride was a team-best T-3 at Primland and Will Zalatoris, the 2014 U.S. Junior champion, hasn’t finished worse than 21st in his first two college starts. This team’s arrow is pointed up, especially with Cameron Young, one of the top junior players in the country, committed to play for the Demon Deacons in fall 2015.
California sophomore Cameron Shaw (Cal athletic dept.)
Player of the week: Cameron Shaw, Cal
A week after finishing second at the Windon Memorial, the Golden Bears sophomore made the first albatross in school history en route to sharing medalist honors at the Itani Quality Homes Collegiate in Washington. Shaw, who tied with Washington State’s Sang Lee at 6-under 204, made a 2 on the par-5 10th hole at Palouse Ridge during a final-round 71. He used a 2-iron (!) from 258 yards. “The coaches talk about quantum leaps,” he said, “and this was by far the biggest one for me.”
Honorable mention: Joey Petronio, North Florida. With a career-low, seven-birdie 66 in the final round at Shoal Creek, the Ospreys junior leapfrogged Alabama’s Tom Lovelady to win for the second time in his career.
Biggest disappointment: Virginia
In a weak, nine-team field, the Cavaliers could finish no better than sixth at the Primland Collegiate Invite, 19 shots behind winner Wake Forest. Senior Denny McCarthy, a U.S. Amateur semifinalist, World Amateur Team Championship representative and one of Golf Channel’s top 10 players to watch this season, failed to break par in any of the three rounds and finished 33rd. Last season he was outside the top 10 only three times in 12 starts. Virginia was also missing stud freshman Austin Truslow, who played the team’s first two events.
Keep an eye on: Cal surprising early
Like Alabama, the Golden Bears were also thought to be in rebuilding mode this season. One of the most prolific winners in the match-play era, Cal returned to the winner’s circle last week but with a decidedly different look. Gone are Max Homa and Brandon Hagy, Michael Weaver and Joel Stalter. Enter three freshmen and two sophomores, and Cal finished as the only team under par during its 13-shot victory last week at the Windon Memorial. The Bears followed that performance with a solo third at the Itani Quality Homes Collegiate, where sophomore Cameron Shaw earned medalist honors. “It’s early,” Cal coach Steve Desimone said in an email, “but I have that instinct that tells me we’re onto something special again.”
What you may have missed: A week after the Golfweek Conference Challenge became the first women’s NCAA Division I event to put live scoring in the players’ hands, the same system was implemented once again at a men’s event in Pullman, Wash. (The majority of Division II and III tournaments have already implemented player live scoring, because of a lack of volunteers.) Besides the obvious concerns about distraction and receiving information, it’s clear that this is the future of the sport – the system is faster, easier and cuts out the third party (volunteers).