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NCAA season preview: Preseason top 30 men's teams

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With the 2020-21 men's and women's college golf seasons about to begin, GolfChannel.com provides you with everything you need to know about the top teams and players in the country. Below is a breakdown of the preseason top 30 men's teams:


For the past two seasons, qualifiers in Malibu featured more star power and hotly contested finishes than many college tournaments around the country.

Yes, Pepperdine was that deep.

And it’s because of that star power and depth that the Waves left Grayhawk Golf Club last June as the national champions, courtesy of their 3-2 victory over veteran-laden Oklahoma in the NCAA Championship final.

But as Pepperdine enters a new season as the defending NCAA champion, it does so with a new team dynamic. It’s not really who the Waves lost but more what they lost. The depth is gone, thanks to the departure of graduates Clay Feagler, Josh McCarthy and Austin Murphy, and the transfers of R.J. Manke to Washington and Caden Fioroni to UNLV.

“Going from basically nine all the way down to six really good players, it’s going to change the way we go about everything,” Pepperdine head coach Michael Beard. “It’s going to be a little bit more about how you prepare for an event rather than have the guys go battle it out and see who’s playing the best right now.”


Brentley Romine previews men's, women's NCAA golf seasons

Brentley Romine previews men's, women's NCAA golf seasons

But make no mistake: The Waves are still really, really good. Four All-Americans from a season ago return – Dylan Menante, William Mouw, Joe Highsmith and Joey Vrzich; all are top-40 amateurs in the world. Role-player-turned-starter Derek Hitchner is coming off two big summer wins, and freshman Ian Maspat arrives looking to push the older guys.

“I told them over the summer,” Beard said, “I said, ‘Hey, eyes are going to be on you. It’s not necessarily a target like guys are going to be after you, but eyes are going to be on every move you guys make.’”

That begins now, as Pepperdine begins the fall as GolfChannel.com’s preseason No. 1 team, just ahead of Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Texas and Vanderbilt.

Here is a full breakdown of the top 30 men’s teams in the country as we enter another season:


Mouw
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1. Pepperdine

Final 2020-21 rank: 3

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Won (third in stroke play)

Top returners: Dylan Menante (Jr.), William Mouw (Jr.), Joe Highsmith (Sr.), Joey Vrzich (Sr.), Derek Hitchner (Sr.)

Key departures: Clay Feagler, Joshua McCarthy, Austin Murphy, R.J. Manke (transferred to Washington), Caden Fioroni (transferred to UNLV)

Arriving: Ian Maspat (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Menante, Mouw, Highsmith, Vrzich, Hitchner

Scouting report: After being named the de-facto national champions two springs ago as the No. 1 team in the country when the season was halted by the pandemic, the Waves got a chance to compete for an NCAA title last season – and they delivered. Now, Pepperdine doesn’t just have to wonder what could’ve been, they know what it's like, and they’re eager to get back to Grayhawk to defend. There will be a different look in the team room, as Feagler has graduated and Manke has transferred, but four starters return, and Hitchner will finally get a consistent chance to show people what he’s made of. This team won’t be as deep as in years past, but the arrival of freshman Ian Maspat will at least give head coach Michael Beard some different lineup options. Not that he’ll need it; the top five is very strong, led by Menante, who won the Northeast Amateur this summer, and Mouw, a Walker Cupper who will look to get back on track after somewhat of a down sophomore year. Highsmith qualified for the U.S. Open this summer, Hitchner has also been hot recently with wins at the Trans-Miss and Minnesota State Amateur, and Vrzich was arguably the team’s most consistent player last season. As long as the Waves avoid the injury bug, they’ll have the opportunity to add another one of those big trophies to the trophy case.

Coach’s take: “I’d like to say that we’re all just going to keep trying to get better, and we know there’s a lot of really good teams out there, so I don’t think our guys will come out overly confident or cocky, I don’t feel that way at all, but also looking at our team, it’s hard not to get excited about the chance of giving it a run again.” – Beard


Jin
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2. Oklahoma State

Final 2020-21 rank: 1

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Semifinalist (second in stroke play)

Top returners: Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra (Sr.), Bo Jin (Soph.), Brian Stark (Jr.), Aman Gupta (Sr.), Leo Oyo (Sr.), Jonas Baumgartner (Soph.), Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen (Sr.), Hazen Newman (Jr.)

Key departures: Austin Eckroat

Arriving: Tiger Christensen (Fr.), Jordan Wilson (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Chacarra, Jin, Stark, Gupta, Oyo

Scouting report: How good were the Cowboys last season? Consider this: Not only did they win four of their last six tournaments, but they also had a player finish in the top 6 in each of the last 11 events. While Eckroat was the team’s leader, Chacarra was arguably Oklahoma State’s best player during the regular season, notching four top-3 finishes, while Jin was the star of the postseason with three straight runner-up showings, including a solo second at the NCAA Championship. As a team, the Cowboys were also second at Grayhawk before losing in the semifinals to Pepperdine. Only Eckroat is gone from that bunch, and this is a deeper squad entering the new season. Chacarra missed the Western and U.S. amateurs with mono, but he’ll be ready for the fall and should be among the favorites for the Haskins Award along with Jin. Jin, Stark and Gupta all made match play at Oakmont, with Stark going the furthest, to the quarterfinals. All four start the season presumably with their spots in the lineup spoken for. But the fifth spot is still anybody’s game, with as many as six players in the mix to claim it. Oyo figures to have the early edge, as he was fourth at Sunnehanna and made match play at the Western, but don’t sleep on Christensen, who won the German International Amateur this summer, or Newman, who didn’t make the lineup last season but had a solid summer. This team’s makeup and depth have some similarities to that 2018 team that won it all with Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland.

Coach’s take: “We’re going to have a lot of competition at home, and that should really sharpen our skills for the year. … We’re going to have a battle for that fifth spot, but that’s really the key to having a good team is that competition in that fourth and fifth spot, and fortunately we start out the year at Pebble Beach where we play six guys. We’ll do a lot of qualifying this fall and a lot of playing, as well; we’ve got additional tournaments where we’ll send individuals to go play, so that they’ll be getting reps at home and on the road for us to start to really understand who our best players are going to be.” – Alan Bratton


Johnston
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3. Arizona State

Final 2020-21 rank: 5

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Semifinalist (won stroke play)

Top returners: David Puig (Jr.), Ryggs Johnston (Jr.), Cameron Sisk (Sr.), Mason Andersen (Sr.), James Leow (Jr.)

Key departures: Kevin Yu, Blake Wagoner

Arriving: Josele Ballester (Fr.), Preston Summerhays (Fr.), Kiko Coelho (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Puig, Johnston, Sisk, Ballester, Andersen

Scouting report: The big story in Tempe is how one of the top recruiting classes in recent memory can make up for the loss of Yu, a two-time All-American who finished his Sun Devil career with a 70.46 scoring average and 103 rounds of par or better, both numbers second only to Jon Rahm. Summerhays is well known, the son of Boyd, winner of the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur and a recent match-play qualifier at the U.S. Amateur. But Ballester could be the best of the freshman trio, with raw power and supreme ball-striking ability. If his putting improves, Ballester has Phil Mickelson Award potential. Both newcomers should challenge for a lineup spot right away behind mainstays Puig, Johnston and Sisk, all top-75 players in the world amateur rankings. Andersen, also a top-100 player, is back for his extra year and will be tough to beat out for a starting nod, as well. After not winning as much as expected a season ago and then bowing out in the semifinals after taking the No. 1 seed at Grayhawk, the Sun Devils are more than motivated entering this new campaign.

Coach’s take: “It’s easy for everyone to say, oh, we’re going to be even better than we were last year, but losing Kevin Yu is a massive loss. For four years, he was always right there. … That’s not easy to replace, and for freshmen to be expected to come in and replace them, that’s asking too much, I think. But we do have an awesome freshman class, and once they get moving and settled, they’re going to be really good. Yeah, we should be a solid team, but we’re going to need someone to be – we have a lot of really, really good players and we’d sure love to see a few of them get to that very top level.” – Matt Thurmond


Coody
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4. Texas

Final 2020-21 rank: 11

2021 NCAA Championship finish: T-25

Top returners: Pierceson Coody (Sr.), Cole Hammer (Sr.), Travis Vick (Jr.), Parker Coody (Sr.), Mason Nome (Jr.), Will Thomson (Jr.)

Key departures: Christoffer Bring, Hunter Ostrom

Arriving: Alejandro Gonzalez (Fr.), Jeffrey Zatorski (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Pi. Coody, Hammer, Vick, Pa. Coody, Nome

Scouting report: Nobody in college golf played more last spring than Hammer and Pierceson Coody, who squeezed in Walker Cup and AT&T Byron Nelson starts into their already busy schedules. By the time they got to Grayhawk, fatigue had set in – and for Pierceson Coody, sickness; he had two viral bouts, first at Seminole and then during the NCAA Championship, where he only played 18 holes before withdrawing. That helped lead to an early exit at nationals, but the Longhorns are back for one last chance with this class, which also includes Parker Coody. Depth guys Bring and Ostrom are gone, but Thomson is expected to shoulder most of the load as the sixth guy behind one of the best top fives in the country. Pierceson Coody had a stretch in the spring where he didn’t finish outside the top 3 in four events, and had his health not been compromised, he could’ve won the Haskins Award. He qualified for the U.S. Open this summer along with Hammer, though both failed to make match play at the U.S. Amateur. Hammer has been cold with the putter lately, but he’s historically been great with the flatstick, so that likely will sort itself out. Vick, Parker Coody and Nome all made match play at Oakmont, with Vick reaching the semifinals. Vick’s breakout potential is through the roof, and don’t be surprised to see the latter two guys win tournaments this season. Considering all that was thrown at Texas last season, expect less adversity and more success this season.

Coach’s take: “I think Cole said it best at the end, the last tournament was just such a stinger. … But we’ve got extensive knowledge about our team, and we know we’ve got some highly competitive individuals who have tremendous belief, so really, we’ll just take what happened and I know the guys are going to use that for fuel. … They almost got to the top of the mountain [as freshmen], and now they are going to take all of this education from the last three years and play college golf, and really be into it and have fun – hopefully a lot of fun.” – John Fields


Moll
Vanderbilt Athletics

5. Vanderbilt

Final 2020-21 rank: 7

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (seventh in stroke play)

Top returners: William Moll (Jr.), Reid Davenport (Sr.), Harrison Ott (Sr.), Cole Sherwood (Soph.), Matthew Riedel (Jr.), Michael Shears (Sr.)

Key departures: Mason Greenberg, Luke Zieman

Arriving: Gordon Sargent (Fr.), Jackson Van Paris (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Sargent, Moll, Davenport, Van Paris, Ott

Scouting report: It’s hard to find another team that got more out of its players last season than Vandy. The Commodores won SEC and NCAA regional titles and then rallied to get into the final eight at the NCAA Championship before being eliminated by Oklahoma State in the quarters. And they did all of that after John Augenstein turned pro midseason. Now, the talent level in Nashville ramps up a few notches, as the top six players return and are joined by two much-ballyhooed freshmen. Moll is coming off a season in which he posted five top-10s and was a second-team All-American, but he might not even be Vandy’s best player this season. Fueled by some added distance, Sargent came alive this summer, winning the Alabama State Amateur again, making the quarters of the U.S. Junior, finishing runner-up to Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen in the Western Amateur and then making it to match play at the U.S. Amateur. One equipment rep said of Sargent at Oakmont: “He’s the real deal Holyfield.” Van Paris is a proven winner with a slick short game, though even he’s not guaranteed playing time. Davenport is a veteran. Sherwood played some big postseason rounds and made match play at Oakmont, where he was the only player the first day to shoot under par. Riedel and Shears were in the NCAA lineup. And then there’s the seasoned Ott, who lost his game last season but has rediscovered it this summer, nearly taking down Thorbjornsen in the first round of match play at the U.S. Amateur and recently winning the Wisconsin Open for the second straight year, the first amateur to do so in more than 60 years.

Coach’s take: “You go through that postseason gauntlet and you really can’t have any holes in your lineup. And those take a while to fill, you’re always kind of building and forming, and I think we’ve finally got the depth that I think we need. … We couldn’t be more excited. I’m truly entering this year with a whole new mindset: This is a clean slate, new team, new beginning; and let’s see where this thing can go.” – Scott Limbaugh


Fountain
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6. North Carolina

Final 2020-21 rank: 8

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (eighth in stroke play)

Top returners: Peter Fountain (Soph.), Austin Greaser (Jr.), Ryan Burnett (Sr.), Ryan Gerard (Sr.), Dougie Ergood (Sr.), Ryan Smith (Soph.), Kenan Poole (Jr.)

Key departures: Austin Hitt

Arriving: David Ford (Fr.), Narayan Mohan (Fr.), Luke Edwards (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Fountain, Greaser, Ford, Burnett, Gerard

Scouting report: The Tar Heels may have snuck into match play last spring at Grayhawk as the eighth seed, but they aren’t sneaking up on anybody this season. Not with the reigning U.S. Amateur runner-up in Greaser, who also reached the semifinals of the Western Amateur this summer. Not with a returning first-team All-American in Fountain, who as a freshman won twice, including the ACC individual title, and added two seconds. Not with hotshot freshman David Ford arriving on campus. With Ford slotting in for the graduated Hitt, the Tar Heels’ starting five will still be able to hang with anyone – and maybe even more so. Depth could be an issue relative to the other elites, but Ergood is more than serviceable as a sixth man. So, if you’re looking for this year’s trendy pick to win it all, the Tar Heels are your guys.

Coach’s take: “This will be a great year for us, but I also think it’ll be the most challenging year that we’ve had in a really long time. We’ll have such intense competition at home, and I think that’s going to be really hard on guys, whether it’s hard for a day, hard for a week, hard for a couple of months; we’re going to have new challenges. But we take a very individual approach in order to get individual results and therefore team results, and the message with us is the same every single year: Get better. And if you look at what we’ve done for four years now, we keep getting better. … I think this is a roster where in the national landscape, for whatever reason, these guys don’t get a lot of credit. We know very well where we were ranked in the preseason last year (28th by GolfChannel.com), and that put a big chip on our shoulder.” – Andrew DiBitetto


Aberg
Texas Tech Athletics

7. Texas Tech

Final 2020-21 rank: 12

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 11

Top returners: Ludvig Aberg (Jr.), Sandy Scott (Sr.), Kyle Hogan (Sr.), Baard Skogen (Soph.), Garrett Martin (Jr.), Andy Lopez (Sr.), J.P. Roller (Soph.)

Key departures: Markus Braadlie (transferred to UCF)

Arriving: Calum Scott (Fr.), Gustav Andersson (Fr.), Seth Bearden (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Aberg, S. Scott, Hogan, Skogen, Martin

Scouting report: The Red Raiders were a trendy pick to win it all at the start of last season, but an NCAA title never materialized after Sandy Scott went down with a left-wrist injury after three events in the fall and didn’t play again. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as the Red Raiders won their regional and then led after 18 holes at Grayhawk before ending up 11th. Aberg was a stud last spring, winning twice and adding six more top-10s, including a T-8 at nationals. The junior, who was runner-up this summer at the European Amateur, is as close to a sure-fire pro prospect as any amateur in the world, and he’s arguably the Haskins Award favorite entering his junior season. It’s possible that he’ll pair with Scott atop the lineup, as the Walker Cupper was granted a medical redshirt to return for a sixth year. Scott did have to miss the U.S. Amateur, but he’s confident after a good report recently that he’s turning a corner with his wrist. With Hogan and Lopez also back for extra years, Texas Tech is one of the oldest teams in the country, but a couple of younger players – Skogen and Scott’s little brother, Callum – are poised for big years. Skogen found some self-belief late last season while Callum Scott had a hot summer, making the quarterfinals of the British Amateur and notching three other top-10s in big international junior events. If Sandy Scott misses some more time, the Red Raiders might be better equipped to handle his absence this time.

Coach’s take: “It’s kind of hard to project exactly because Sandy is such a wild card, with his injury and how well he can play, but the ceiling there is probably to be one of the best, if not the best, in the country, and if he’s not in there, who the heck knows where we’ll be or what we’ll grow in there. … But we’re going to have some depth again and really be able to play some hot hands on the back end of the lineup.” – Greg Sands


Castillo
USGA

8. Florida

Final 2020-21 rank: 26

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 22

Top returners: Ricky Castillo (Jr.), Yuxin Lin (Jr.), Joe Pagdin (Soph.), Tyler Wilkes (Soph.), Giovanni Manzoni (Sr.), Fred Biondi (Jr.), John Dubois (Jr.), Manny Girona (Sr.)

Key departures: Carlos Bustos

Arriving: Miguel Leal (Fr.), Matthew Kress (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Castillo, Lin, Pagdin, Wilkes, Manzoni

Scouting report: It was an up-and-down season for the Gators last time out. They looked really good, winning back-to-back events to open the spring and grabbing the final NCAA Championship ticket out of Cle Elum in dramatic fashion. But they also struggled, tying for ninth and missing match play at the SEC Championship and then finishing 22nd at Grayhawk. Castillo regressed slightly by his standards as a sophomore after winning the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s best freshman, but he figured it out with a 4-0 showing at the Walker Cup along with deep match-play runs at the Western and U.S. amateurs. Lin and Pagdin are all-SEC types, and Wilkes should build off a solid freshman year. The fifth spot probably currently belongs to Manzoni, who had four top-10s, including two runner-up finishes, in Europe this summer. But Biondi, the Florida State Amateur champ, and Dubois are expected to challenge. With this much talent, the expectations remain high: Getting back to nationals simply just isn’t enough; it’s time for the Gators to contend for an NCAA title.

Coach’s take: “Obviously, being at the University of Florida, we’re trying to win, and that’s where our goals lie, but getting a taste of [NCAAs at Grayhawk] … I think that’s a huge advantage being able to have seen it. Knowing what we need to work on now, we’ve got a whole year to prepare, but yeah, absolutely imperative that we were there and learned a ton.” – J.C. Deacon


Lewis
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9. Tennessee

Final 2020-21 rank: 22

2021 NCAA Championship finish: T-17

Top returners: Bryce Lewis (Soph.), Hunter Wolcott (Sr.), Spencer Cross (Sr.), Tyler Johnson (Sr.), Jake Hall (Soph.), Cade Russell (Fr.), Lance Simpson (Fr.)

Key departures: Rhys Nevin, Brayden Garrison

Arriving: Laurent Desmarchais, Lance Simpson

Projected starting lineup: Lewis, Wolcott, Cross, Desmarchais, Johnson

Scouting report: It’s Year 4 of the Brennan Webb era in Knoxville, and big things are anticipated. Lewis, Wolcott and Cross combined for eight top-10s a season ago, and with Wolcott coming back for his extra year, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Vols’ star trio could flirt with doubling that total this season. Lewis arguably has the highest ceiling of the three, so keep an eye out for him in terms of postseason individual accolades. Johnson will be a strong presence in the lineup, too, after a successful summer that included a Chattanooga Choo Choo title and a 14-shot victory at the Tennessee State Amateur. Tennessee actually had three of the top four finishers at the latter – Hall and Russell being the other two. With loads of talent returning, the biggest buzz might be one of the freshmen. Desmarchais is a big, talented player with top-10s at the Porter Cup and Canadian Amateur this summer, and he’s already making waves in practice, too.

Coach’s take: “We’ve established our culture, who we are, what our expectations are. The first couple years were pretty hard, and we probably exceeded the expectations that everyone had for us. But you know, it was a lot of hard work to get where wanted to get to, and last year was the start of a new era and the culmination of what we had done those first two years, and now we’re ready to take even one more big step. … Nothing is really stopping us from believing that we can win anything we want to.” – Webb


Stanford
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10. Stanford

Final 2020-21 rank: 30

2021 NCAA Championship finish: DNQ

Top returners: Michael Thorbjornsen (Soph.), Karl Vilips (Soph.), Barclay Brown (Jr.), Henry Shimp (Sr.), Ethan Ng (Sr.), Nate Menon (Sr.), Daulet Tuleubayev (Sr.)

Key departures: David Snyder, Ashwin Arasu

Arriving: Alex Yang (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Thorbjornsen, Vilips, Brown, Shimp, Ng

Scouting report: The Cardinal couldn’t seem to catch a break last season. They didn’t start competing until mid-February. Their stud freshmen, Thorbjornsen and Vilips, combined for just one top-10 finish. And they had to play regionals without two starters, Shimp and Brown, because of a false positive COVID-19 result; they ended up falling just short of an NCAA Championship berth. However, that was last season. Most everyone is back this season, including Shimp, who is entering a sixth year, and Thorbjornsen and Vilips have each enjoyed strong summers. Thorbjornsen won the Mass State Amateur in record fashion and followed that with a Western Amateur title and Round-of-32 appearance at Oakmont. Vilips, who was in the transfer portal before deciding to return to Stanford, missed qualifying for the U.S. Amateur via the WAGR by a spot, but he posted four top-10s this summer while still recovering from finger surgery last year. If freshman Yang can hit the ground running or Tuleubayev can be the guy who helped the Cardinal win it all in 2019, this squad is deep and dangerous.

Coach’s take: “We had a weird end last spring … and we were trending the right way. We were upset that we didn’t make it, you know, you’re right in the heat of the battle and with a couple different swings on the final nine, we’re right there. But it’s also a confidence-booster because we were shoulder to shoulder with Oklahoma the whole way, and they ended up eking it out and we didn’t. That stuff happens. You take a Walker Cupper and Henry Shimp out of there and it’s a different animal. Guys were trying hard and I give them credit, we almost did make it. It was just a really bad beat, but that’s golf; no one’s feeling sorry for themselves. Our guys are competitive, though. Hopefully, it’s used as motivation for what lies ahead.” – Conrad Ray


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11. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons didn’t have a completely healthy Alex Fitzpatrick down the stretch last season because of a back injury. While Fitzpatrick was still a first-team All-American, Wake could only manage a T-13 finish at Grayhawk. The senior will again team up with fellow GB&I Walker Cupper, junior Mark Power, as well as returning starters, sophomore Michael Brennan and graduate student Parker Gillam. The big question is who replaces graduate Eric Bae. Sophomore B.J. Rogillio and freshman Scotty Kennon are the two most likely candidates.

12. Clemson: NCAA medalist Turk Pettit and fellow senior William Nottingham are no longer with the Tigers, but the major departure is legendary head coach Larry Penley, who retired. New coach Jordan Byrd will still have a talented roster to work with, however, as Colby Patton and Kyle Cottam return for their extra years to team with senior Jacob Bridgeman, a second-team All-American as a junior. If senior Zack Gordon and junior Carter Pendley can take their next steps, Clemson will be in the hunt to repeat as ACC champion.

13. Georgia Tech: Sophomore Christo Lamprecht had four top-10s as a freshman and he’ll continue to lead this Yellow Jackets team, which only lost Noah Norton from its NCAA Championship lineup that finished 15th last spring at Grayhawk. There will be a little more depth this year, too, with the additions of Missouri transfer Ross Steelman, a second-team All-SEC selection last season as a sophomore who reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont, and freshman Ben Reuter from the Netherlands.

14. Oklahoma: No one would be shocked if head coach Ryan Hybl has a top-10 team by season’s end, but after losing three All-Americans in Quade Cummins, Jonathan Brightwell and Garett Reband – that’s 39 tournament starts, one win and 22 top-10s from last season – these new-look Sooners have a lot to prove. Senior Logan McAllister will be the guy now, which he’s shown at times he can be, and Rutgers transfer Christopher Gotterup is the diamond of this year’s transfer period. But is senior Patrick Welch’s slump over? Can freshman Drew Goodman hit the ground running and slot into the five spot? Oklahoma will have a hard time repeating its national runner-up finish from last spring, but it does have match-play potential.

15. Arkansas: Tons of experience has departed, but Julian Perico and Segundo Oliva Pinto are back, and the Razorbacks added two big transfers in Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, a top-100 amateur from TCU, and Luke Long, Houston’s No. 2 guy from last season – and a third could join the squad for the second half. That’s plenty to keep Arkansas among the SEC’s best after two straight trips to the conference’s championship match. However, Manuel Lozada injured his leg and will be out until the spring, so initially that will hurt.

16. Florida State: Gone is Haskins Award winner John Pak and fellow All-American Vincent Norrman, but Brett Roberts is poised to take a big leap as a sophomore, plus the Seminoles made lots of noise in the transfer portal, adding senior Michael Sakane (Jacksonville) and Dan Bradbury (Lincoln Memorial). Norrman was the top-ranked player in Division II when he transferred from Georgia Southwestern last year; the same goes for Bradbury, who was D-II’s top-ranked player this past season.

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17. Georgia: Gone are Davis Thompson, a two-time first-team All-American and reigning SEC player of the year, and Spencer Ralston, a two-time All-American honorable mention, which means senior Trent Phillips must put this team on his back. He’s fully capable, and he’ll get some reinforcements in freshman Maxwell Ford and Augusta transfer Ben van Wyk. Juniors Connor Creasy and Nicolas Cassidy round out what is still a potent lineup that should get back to Grayhawk.

18. Illinois: The loss of Michael Feagles will hurt, and Giovanni Tadiotto is also gone, but junior Jerry Ji’s emergence last season coupled with the return of seniors Adrien Dumont de Chassart and Tommy Kuhl will keep the Illini favorites in an improving Big Ten and in the national conversation. And it never hurts when Mike Small is your head coach.

19. Texas A&M: After coming up just short of making it to Grayhawk, the gritty Aggies will be motivated to not let that happen again. The departures of Dan Erickson and Brandon Smith hurt, but with Walker Lee back for his extra year to team with first-team All-American Sam Bennett and junior William Paysse, Texas A&M has a strong foundation. Sophomore Daniel Rodrigues also got a lot of run last season, but Jimmy Lee and Matthew Denton are the only other players on this year’s roster with tournament starts a season ago – and they only combined for three starts. That means the fifth spot is an unknown entering the fall.

20. Notre Dame: After a breakout, four-win season was cut short because of the pandemic, the Irish couldn’t pick up where they left off, finishing last season ranked just outside of the top 30 and with no wins. However, they do return their top five players from a squad that finished eighth at regionals, including graduate student Davis Chatfield, a recent U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist, and junior Palmer Jackson. Expect closer to four wins than zero this season.

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21. San Diego State: The Aztecs received a major boost when Puwit Anupansuebsai decided to come back for his extra year and sacrifice a Forme Tour card via the PGA Tour University top 15. He’ll again team up with seniors Youssef Guezzale, Steve Sugimoto, Zihao Jin and Joey Moore for what will be an experienced top five.

22. Washington: Two seasons ago, the Huskies flirted with a top-10 national ranking before the pandemic canceled plans at an NCAA run, but they took a step back last season, finishing 38th in Golfstat and tying for seventh at the Cle Elum Regional. Cal State Amateur winner Noah Woolsey coming back for an extra season is huge, and the addition of Pepperdine transfer R.J. Manke, this summer’s Washington State Amateur champion, gives Washington a nice one-two punch. The rest of the lineup is solid, and that doesn’t even include freshman Aiden O’Hagan, who is much better than his ranking would suggest.

23. TCU: On the heels of their 16th-place finish at the NCAA Championship, the Horned Frogs return most of their core from last season, including Jacob Skov Olesen and Filippo Celli. Losing Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira to Arkansas leaves a void in the lineup, but that should be filled – at least partially – by fifth-year Washington transfer Jan Schneider, who posted two top-10s in 10 starts for the Huskies last season.

24. SMU: The Mustangs couldn’t make it back-to-back trips to match play at the NCAA Championship, finishing T-17 at Grayhawk last spring. Now, they must replace All-American Mac Meissner. It does help that Noah Goodwin decided to return for an extra year, but there will be some questions at the bottom of the lineup. J. Holland Humphries, Prescott Butler and Ben Wong and transfer Holden Wisener are among the options behind Goodwin, Ollie Osborne and Nathan Petronzio.

25. South Florida: The Bulls return four of their five regular starters from last season’s squad that won the American title and finished ninth at regionals. Junior Albin Bergstrom was the America medalist, a win that highlighted seven top-25s in nine events. Freshman Shubham Jaglan has a chance to contribute immediately.

26. Charlotte: After qualifying five players for the U.S. Amateur, expectations are higher than ever for the 49ers, who also were one spot away at regionals from advancing to the NCAA Championship last season. Senior Matthew Sharpstene reached the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals at Oakmont after making the semifinals the year before at Bandon, and he’ll again top this lineup, which also includes juniors Carson Ownbey and Ben Woodruff. Freshman Conor Gough, a former GB&I Walker Cupper and brother of recently graduated John Gough, will also be in the mix for a lineup spot, but his arrival may have to wait until the spring.

Nick Gabrelcik
USGA/Chris Keane

27. North Florida: The Ospreys missed out on advancing through regionals by one place last season, and while there were some departures (Nick Infanti and Michael Mattiace), they do return one of the top players in the country in sophomore Nick Gabrelcik, who won three times among seven top-10s last season en route to earning first-team All-America honors and the Phil Mickelson Award. Gabrelcik also was a U.S. Amateur semifinalist, so he’s still got plenty of momentum as he starts his sophomore season. Brandon Mancheno, a former standout at Auburn, could be a surprise wild card, too.

28. New Mexico: The two-time defending Mountain West champs finished last season ranked 29th by Golfstat and didn’t lose much. Senior Sam Choi is flirting with the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after winning the Maridoe Amateur and finishing second at the Pacific Coast Amateur this summer. Junior Albert Boneta and sophomore Bastien Amat are formidable running mates.

29. Auburn: The Tigers have much to replace after the departures of mainstays Jovan Rebula, Andrew Kozan, Graysen Huff and Wells Padgett. Junior Alex Vogelsong has first-team All-SEC potential and John Marshall Butler was the Kentucky Amateur champion and won a match at Oakmont this summer, but the back end of the lineup is a question with sophomores Carson Bacha and Ryan Eshleman, along with freshmen Brendan Valdes and Evan Vo, relatively unproven.

30. LSU: There were glimpses last season despite the midseason departure of Philip Barbaree, especially a runner-up finish in stroke play at the SEC Championship, but the Tigers ultimately bowed out in regionals with a 10th-place finish in Tallahassee. Senior Garrett Barber is this team’s unquestioned No. 1 and freshman Cohen Trolio, with a U.S. Junior runner-up and U.S. Amateur semifinal appearance to his name, should step into the lineup right away, but the difference between making it to Grayhawk or not will likely depend on how fifth-year senior Trey Winstead bounces back from a tough year.


GolfChannel.com's Preseason Top 30

MEN'S TEAMS
1. Pepperdine
2. Oklahoma State
3. Arizona State
4. Texas
5. Vanderbilt
6. North Carolina
7. Texas Tech
8. Florida
9. Tennessee
10. Stanford
11. Wake Forest
12. Clemson
13. Georgia Tech 
14. Oklahoma
15. Arkansas
16. Florida State
17. Georgia
18. Illinois
19. Texas A&M
20. Notre Dame
21. San Diego State
22. Washington
23. TCU
24. SMU
25. South Florida
26. Charlotte
27. North Florida
28. New Mexico
29. Auburn
30. LSU

Next five: 31. Baylor, 32. Arizona, 33. Florida Gulf Coast, 34. UCLA, 35. Duke