The spring college season begins in earnest Wednesday with the Amer Ari Invitational, which features seven of the top 15 teams (and nine of the top 25) in the country. Chief among them is defending NCAA champion and No. 2-ranked Texas, which no longer can turn to Jordan Spieth (turned pro) or, apparently, highly prized recruit Beau Hossler, who is sitting out the spring to get acclimated to college life.
But the Longhorns aren’t the only team to watch this week at the Waikoloa Kings’ Course in Hawaii, what with fellow top-10 teams UCLA (No. 4), Washington (No. 7), Georgia Tech (No. 8) and USC (No. 9) also looking to knock off the rust and improve their ranking. The three-round event ends Friday.
No doubt, the best team in the country thus far has been top-ranked Cal, which won its first five starts of the season before a third-place finish last week in Arizona. But Washington may be the team best positioned to challenge the Golden Bears.
After an impressive fall campaign, the Huskies became just the third team ever to produce three players on the Hogan Award watch list. Senior Chris Williams is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, and he’s finally healthy after a months-long bout with mononucleosis during the fall. In the offseason, he represented the U.S. at both the World Amateur Championship in Turkey and the Copas de las Americas event.
Sophomore Cheng-Tsung Pan was the top-ranked college player in the fall, according to Golfstat, compiling a head-to-head record of 271-4-10 and finishing no worse than third in four college starts. Trevor Simsby, a junior, was eighth in the country after the fall on the strength of three top-5 finishes, including a victory at the Pac 12 Preview.
Don’t be surprised if either Washington or UCLA emerge with a victory this week.
What else happened on campus this week?
• On Sunday, North Florida senior Sean Dale shot a final-round 69 to rally from four shots back to win the Jones Cup, one of the most prestigious events on the amateur schedule. The 23-year-old didn’t play for the Ospreys in the fall as he pursued a PGA Tour card via Q-School; he failed to advance past second stage. Alabama junior Cory Whitsett began the final round of the Jones Cup with a three-shot lead, but a closing 75 dropped him into a share of second.
• Fresno State coach Mike Watney – the uncle of PGA Tour player Nick Watney – will retire this spring after 35 years at the helm of the Bulldogs’ program. Watney, 62, was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame in 2007.
• Tennessee senior Rick Lamb won his second consecutive start Tuesday with a wire-to-wire, six-shot victory at the SeaBest Invitational. He also propelled the Volunteers to the team title, their first of the season, as they edged Texas A&M by four shots on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Here are the top 10 men’s teams in the country, as ranked by Golfstat (click here for the full rankings):
1. California: Next event is Feb. 20-22 John Burns Intercollegiate
2. Texas: Starts spring season at this week’s Amer Ari Invitational
3. Florida: Starts spring season at Gator Invitational (home event), which begins Saturday
4. UCLA: Starts spring season at this week’s Amer Ari Invitational
5. New Mexico: Next event is Feb. 20-22 John Burns Intercollegiate
6. Alabama: Starts spring season at Feb. 17-19 Puerto Rico Classic
7. Washington: Starts spring season at this week’s Amer Ari Invitational
8. Georgia Tech: Starts spring season at this week’s Amer Ari Invitational
9. USC: Starts spring season at this week’s Amer Ari Invitational
10. Georgia: Starts spring season at Feb. 17-19 Puerto Rico Classic