With best college teams retooling, 2014-15 wide open

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2014, 12:20 pm

Buried behind the dark sunglasses, the constant chatter and the relentless energy, Jay Seawell experienced a foreign emotion this summer.


Odd, because he is the coach of the two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama Crimson Tide, a title that seemed like a pipe dream in the mid-’90s when he was making $7,500 at a JUCO school in Anderson, S.C., living in a dorm room with his pregnant wife. But can you really blame the guy for feeling a bit glum? The most glorious period of his professional career had come to an end.

Gone is the trio of senior leaders who returned to school just to spend more time together and win another national title.

Gone is Seawell’s third assistant in as many years, an annoying byproduct of a thriving program.

Gone (or least no longer recognizable) is the team that reached three consecutive NCAA finals, that had 16 wins and four runners-up in the last three semesters, that didn’t finish outside the top 4 in an event in two years.

“You obviously understand it’s a four-year thing and then it’s over,” Seawell said recently, “but you get in the dirt and you grind it out and you live life every day with each other, and then all of a sudden it’s gone. It’s over. There’s a little bit of a void and a sadness.”

It wasn’t until Aug. 20 that Seawell snapped out of his summer swoon. The day marked the arrival of the team’s golf shirts, bags, shoes, balls and gloves, a college kid’s Christmas. It was time to get back to work.

Diminished, sure, but the Crimson Tide, No. 4 in Golf Channel’s preseason rankings, aren’t exactly starting from scratch. They still have one of college golf’s best players, sophomore Robby Shelton. They’ll finally get a chance to see 2013 GB&I Walker Cupper Gavin Moynihan, who played only sparingly a year ago because of a crowded lineup. This Alabama team is just “quieter and grittier,” one that can toil without the outsized expectations.

“Nobody knows if we’re gonna be any good or not,” Seawell said, “and I love that. It’s been a while. It’s re-energizing.”

Besides, he can take solace in knowing that he’s far from the only coach adjusting to his new reality this fall.

Nine of the top 10 teams in last year’s Golfstat rankings – nearly all of the powerhouse programs – lost at least two starters to graduation or the pros.

Cal tearfully said farewell to a group that captured the first two Pac-12 titles in school history, won 24 of its last 40 tournaments and finished outside the top 5 only twice.

Georgia Tech watched three top-120 starters accept their diplomas and join the play-for-pay ranks.

College Central: Complete preview of 2014-15 season

Rankings: Top 10 men's teams

Top 10 men's players to watch

Rankings: Top 5 women's teams

Stanford is missing not just its team leaders but also the top two players in the game last season, Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson.

In all, five of Golfstat’s top-10 players have left campus, and half of the top 20. Indeed, when the NCAA Championship returns to the airwaves next spring, more than a few introductions will be in order.

“Just a huge amount of turnover,” said Seawell, which makes this season easily the most wide open of the match-play era.

Since 2009, the landscape has been flooded with star-studded teams – Oklahoma State (Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway), Georgia (Russell Henley, Harris English, Brian Harman, Hudson Swafford), Alabama (Bud Cauley, Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett) and Cal (Max Homa, Brandon Hagy, Michael Weaver).

This year, though, presents a new opportunity – and a new platform – for under-the-radar players, coaches and teams.

“There are newer, shinier parts,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “Starting this year there’s going to be a lot of people enthused about their chance.

“Last year a lot of people were just accusing us of being van drivers, and the reality is there wasn’t a lot more work than that. The work was done in Years 1, 2 and 3, getting them to that point. Now, starting over, you better coach and teach these guys and get them back up to speed.”

No team is newer or shinier than Texas.

Ranked No. 2 on Golf Channel’s preseason list – behind only Oklahoma State, which returns three from last year’s NCAA finalist squad – the Longhorns could start as many as three freshmen this season. Granted, these aren’t your average 18-year-old newcomers: Scottie Scheffler won the 2013 U.S. Junior and made the cut at the Byron Nelson, Doug Ghim finished runner-up at this year’s U.S. Publinx, and Taylor Funk is the accomplished son of the nine-time Champions Tour winner.

Managing all of those young, ambitious talents is a delicate act, and coach John Fields’ biggest challenge will be getting all of those studs enough playing time. Keep in mind, too, that there is often a massive adjustment period in Year 1, from a freshman’s increased responsibilities to the temptation of a Friday night downtown. Each kid responds differently.

Just look at the development of Ollie Schniederjans.

He was a top-5 junior prospect when he arrived at Georgia Tech in fall 2011, but he struggled to keep pace with the fellow stars in his class. Schniederjans recorded only two top 10s (and posted the team’s sixth-best scoring average) while Jordan Spieth, Thomas and Rodgers collected titles and battled for Player of the Year honors. Three years later, Schniederjans is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, with exemptions into a pair of 2015 majors.

His stock was seemingly at an all-time high last May, after a five-win season and a playoff loss at the NCAA Championship. But instead of bolting for the pros and jockeying for sponsor exemptions, Schniederjans decided to stay for his senior season. One of the main reasons: He’ll be the favorite every time he plays, and only in that harsh environment can he learn how his body reacts to pressure, to stress, to expectation. After all, an important part of being a successful pro is summoning the goods when it’s needed most, whether that’s in the second stage of Q-School, or in a Monday qualifier, or on the back nine Sunday.

Schniederjans’ plan was executed flawlessly in the season opener – on the strength of a second-round 64, he won by two shots (over Shelton) at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. 

“It’s a great opportunity to learn,” Heppler said. “If the goal is to eventually try and be like Rory or Tiger or Phil, to have that much pressure on you every time you play, then this is the route for him.

“If you want to be a pro, you have to treat it that way. There are very few guys who get it on easy street. The pros is a different profession, and the key is to teach them to want to go whip somebody.”

How many players Schniederjans whips this season is a major storyline to watch, and so are these:

Can Oklahoma State return to the finals without a senior starter?

Will Texas win prolifically, or will it be undone by freshman immaturity?

Can Illinois thrive when it (finally) is in the spotlight?

Will an upstart program like South Carolina or Vanderbilt crash the party?

Or what about this: Can a down-but-not-quite-rebuilding Alabama become the first team since the mid-1960s to win three national titles in a row?

At that prospect, Seawell perked up, his voice rising and more animated now, his summer sadness a distant memory.

“Oh, I wouldn’t sleep on us,” he said. “I wouldn’t bury us yet.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.