The fall portion of the men’s college season for 2016-17 is over. What did we learn from this first part of the season?
The college experts at Golfweek offered their insights on what transpired and what we can expect in the spring (including some early national championship picks for the action to be at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.):
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We’ll start off with a big ruling near the end of the fall: What are your thoughts on the decision not to adopt the substitution rule? Barring a change, which is still feasible, will no substitutions have a big impact like it did at last year’s NCAAs?
Brentley Romine: I’m a fan of the substitution rule, but only at the NCAA Championship. You’re talking about 30 teams bringing one extra guy. If a player is subbed out in stroke play, it must be prior to a round, and same goes for match play. As for the impact no subs will have on this year’s NCAA Championship, I don’t think it will. After all, last spring was really the first time since match play was introduced that the situation even came up.
Lance Ringler: It could, but unlikely. I don’t recall this being an issue at a championship since the match play format was adopted. My thoughts are quite simple, allow substitutions throughout the season, including the postseason or not at all.
Kevin Casey: I’m also a fan of the substitution rule. Even if it’s only for NCAAs, that’s fine by me. I think there are more pros than cons here, especially considering how much even forfeiting one point can mean in match play (Beau Hossler and Texas proved that last year). Speaking of Hossler and Texas, obviously that’s the big impact we’re talking about last year. No substitutions could certainly make an impact at Rich Harvest Farms, but as large a one as losing the Haskins-Award-winner-to-be for the finals and forfeiting his deciding point? Highly doubtful.
Onto actual tournament play: Which teams were the biggest surprises of the fall?
Brentley Romine: Baylor was 28th in our preseason rankings and Coach Mike McGraw now has his boys at No. 10. Ole Miss has been a pleasant surprise, too, as Braden Thornberry is a legitimate Haskins contender for the 21st-ranked Rebels. I also thought Alabama would have a better fall, but they have battled the injury bug with Jonathan Hardee and Dru Love each missing the fall with injuries.
Lance Ringler: Illinois certainly turned a few heads after being ranked at the top for a few weeks this fall. Many figured the Illini would have some sort of drop off with a few new faces in the lineup after the departure of Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry. That has not been the case. What was thought to be rebuilding appears to be reloading. But, the biggest surprise that has not been mentioned much is the turnaround in Oxford, Miss. In head coach Chris Malloy’s third season at Ole Miss, his team has vaulted to No. 21 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Led by Braden Thornberry’s three wins and No. 14 ranking the Rebels won three times and places second twice compiling a 65-2 overall head-to-head record.
Kevin Casey: Oh for sure, Illinois. Nobody expected a precipitous drop-off from the Illini – you don’t bet against Mike Small like that – but they lose their top two players in Detry and Danielson and then win four of five fall events? Huh? This is the same Detry mind you who won a Challenge Tour event by 12 shots and earned his European Tour card in the months after turning pro. So yeah, this is pretty incredible. Heck, I think Georgia’s doing a pretty good job dealing with the loss of Lee McCoy and Sepp Straka, and they’ve still dropped from No. 3 to No. 14. Illinois, on the other hand, may actually be better than last year’s group. Crazy. One more surprise on the positive side I would say is Kennesaw State. At No. 19, they are 30 spots higher than where the team finished in 2015-16. Bryant Odom is in his second year there, so that settling in probably helps a good deal, but still 30 spots is a big jump in this range, especially with arguably the team’s best player (Fredrik Nilehn) transferring to Texas Tech in the offseason.
What teams should be on our radar to surprise in the spring?
Brentley Romine: North Carolina is 20th right now in the rankings, but I expect the likes of Ben Griffin, Will Register and others to lead the Tar Heels to a strong spring.
Lance Ringler: It has to be Virginia. In four fall events, Bowen Sargent’s squad won three times and sports a 17-2-1 head-to-head record versus the top 25. Led by the trio of Jimmy Stanger, Derek Bard and Thomas Walsh, Virginia is a team that should continue to be noticed. Keep an eye on Texas A&M as well this spring.
Kevin Casey: I’ll throw San Diego State out there. The Aztecs had a sneaky good fall, winning twice and securing a No. 16 ranking. This isn’t the exact same group that made it to NCAAs last year, but much of its core remains and that core was good enough to help lead the Aztecs to T-3 after the first round in Eugene. I just think this group may be a bit of a wildcard that people will easily overlook.
Who are your favorites for the Haskins Award Presented by Stifel heading into the spring?
Brentley Romine: Right now, I have Sam Burns as my favorite. The LSU sophomore is a former top-ranked junior and Rolex Junior Player of the Year, so he has elite game. That game is really starting to show right now as he’s won twice and not finished outside the top 9 this fall. Also, you can’t rule out Maverick McNealy of Stanford.
Lance Ringler: The experience of Stanford senior Maverick McNealy makes it hard to say any other name than his. McNealy once again is in the top spot in the individual rankings heading into the winter break. However, if I had to pick another name, I would point at LSU’s Sam Burns. Burns played in six events this past fall placing in the top 10 in all six and claiming victory or a share of twice.
Kevin Casey: If you look at Golfweek’s Watch List right now, to me, the safest pick is Maverick McNealy, with Matthias Schwab second. Those two would be my favorites at the moment just because of their prior consistency in college. Wyndham Clark and Sam Burns definitely should be in the running as well, though. Clark has overcome a lot and Brentley already mentioned Burns’ junior credentials. But I think the best odds are of Mav repeating his 2015 feat.
Finally, OK, it’s still early, but if you had to pick a national champion for 2017, who do you got at the moment?
Brentley Romine: If we’re talking best team, I’m going with Vanderbilt, which is led by Matthias Schwab, who I think is one of the best amateurs in the world. But in match play anything can happen, so I’m going to go with LSU. The Tigers are ranked fourth in the country, have two seniors who have already won an NCAA title, and will add freshman Philip Barbaree this spring.
Lance Ringler: My preseason No. 1 team was Southern California and while the Trojans were slow starters they did get better as the fall progressed. USC closed the fall winning the stroke-play and match play segments at the Gifford Collegiate. Head coach Chris Zambri has guided his team into match play the last couple of seasons and we should expect to see this experienced group having a go at it this spring at Rich Harvest Farms.
Kevin Casey: I’ll change this pick approximately 478 times before we finally have to lock in on this, but for now I’ll go with Florida. The Gators are currently No. 3 in our rankings, so I’m not going out on much of a limb. But I just feel they have more of a sense of redemption than most top teams due to a really disappointing showing at Eugene, in which the Gators didn’t sniff match play. I like that extra edge they have there to serve them well come postseason time.
@golfweekmag. “College Men’s Roundtable: Recapping the Fall Season and Predicting the Spring – Golfweek.” Golfweek. N.p., 20 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.