March Madness may be over, but in the college golf world, the madness is just beginning.
With NCAA Division I Regionals the next two weeks, championship season is officially underway, which means it’s time for college golf to again swing into the spotlight. And rightfully so. This is turning out to be a record-breaking season, and the excitement around this year’s NCAA Championships is brewing.
In this wrap-around college campaign, five different NCAA Division I men’s teams have won four or more events. Oklahoma State leads the way with eight wins, seven of which came in consecutive starts to tie the school’s single-season winning streak, set in 1986-87. The most wins in one season for the Cowboys is 10, and with a home-course advantage at this year’s NCAA Championships, they’re setting themselves up for a good shot at another record – and a national title.
On the women’s side, three teams have notched half-a-dozen wins each. Arkansas won the SEC Championship for the first time in program history to earn their sixth victory of the year, while Southern California has won six times with four freshmen in their starting lineup. Top-ranked UCLA captured its sixth win at the Pac-12 Championship by a 12-shot margin, leaving the last three national champions coughing in the dust.
Much of UCLA’s success this season can be credited to powerhouse junior Lilia Vu. She captured four individual titles in as many starts earlier this season, a repeat of the feat she also accomplished last year. Along with being the top-ranked amateur in the world, her most recent victory etched her name in the record books, setting a Bruins women’s golf record for most career wins (8) and 54-hole scoring record (14 under par).
Stanford’s Andrea Lee has also been on the record-breaking trend. The 2017 Freshman of the Year set a new Cardinal freshman scoring average last season, and is currently on track to break the sophomore scoring record this season. Lee is just one win shy of tying the Stanford women’s career victories record of eight, and she hasn’t even finished her second full season.
College golfers are getting better and better, and they’ve got the scoring averages to prove it.
The Golfstat Cup is an annual award given at the end of the season to the men’s and women’s collegiate golfers with the lowest adjusted scoring average who played a minimum of 20 stroke-play rounds.
It’s no surprise that Vu leads the women’s side, with a scoring average of 69.95. What is surprising, however, is how much scoring averages are improving. Ten years ago, Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst won the award with a scoring average of 71.00. Another decade before that, in 1998, fellow Blue Devil Jenny Chuasiriporn led the standings with a 72.94 scoring average – nearly three strokes higher than Vu. In the 2017-18 season, the entire top 10 in scoring average fall below a 71.00.
The men are faring well, themselves. California junior Collin Morikawa leads the Golfstat Cup standings with a 68.67 scoring average. PGA Tour superstar Rickie Fowler took the top spot in 2008 with a 71.11 average at Oklahoma State, a number that would rank 70th in the standings today. Other notable winners of the Golfstat Cup include Tiger Woods (70.61 average in 1995-96), Luke Donald (70.45 average in 1998-99), and Jordan Spieth (70.92 average in 2012-13). Morikawa’s average is nearly two shots better than all three.
To put it in perspective, the PGA Tour average score this season is 71.46 and the LPGA tour’s average is 72.17. While courses and set up on the pro ranks are vastly different than at collegiate events, it’s no wonder we’ve seen an influx of young players leaving school early to pursue a professional career after proving they can score low – and win – amongst their peers. Sam Burns (LSU), Cameron Champ (Texas A&M), John Oda (UNLV), and Joaquin Niemann are just a few notable names who chose to forego their degree for a shot at a Tour card this past year. Collectively, they’ve already earned over $887,000.
As the regular college season comes to a close in the coming weeks, our attention inevitably will turn towards which standout amateurs could be The Next Big Thing and make their mark in the professional world. For the players slashing NCAA records this season, though, long-term success is secondary, at the moment. What’s primary in their minds? Stillwater, Oklahoma, and a national championship trophy.