Men’s college golf: 2023 spring conference previews
Winter break is over, classes are back in session and it’s time for more college golf. Here is an in-depth preview of the spring season for the Power 5 conferences and top mid-majors in men’s college golf:
Championship info: April 21-24, Country Club of North Carolina, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Recent champions: Wake Forest (2022), Clemson (2021), Georgia Tech (2019), Georgia Tech (2018), Duke (2017), Clemson (2016), Georgia Tech (2015), Georgia Tech (2014)
Team rankings: North Carolina (5), Georgia Tech (10), Virginia (12), Florida State (13), Duke (33), Wake Forest (34), Notre Dame (37), Clemson (41), Louisville (44), N.C. State (75), Boston College (115), Virginia Tech (137)
Midseason All-Conference Team: Cole Anderson, Jr., Florida State (4); David Ford, Soph., North Carolina (16); Brett Roberts, Jr., Florida State (17); Ryan Burnett, Sr., North Carolina (22); Austin Greaser, Sr., North Carolina (23)
What to watch: Throw out an 11th-place showing at Olympia Fields and North Carolina was the best team in the country during the fall with three other wins, including an impressive performance at Colonial, where the Tar Heels beat Texas Tech by nine shots and finished 14 strokes clear of Vanderbilt. Sophomore David Ford leads the team with four top-10s, including a win at Seminole, and a 69.4 scoring average, though North Carolina boasts four other players with at least two top-10s and a sub-72 stroke average. The Tar Heels have won stroke play at ACCs each of the past two seasons yet bowed out in the semis on both occasions. The last time they’ve won a conference title outright was when Mark Wilson and Co. went back-to-back in 1995 and ’96. … Georgia Tech ham-and-egged it well in the fall, as four different players notched at least one top-5. One of those players was freshman Hiroshi Tai, who had his college career delayed by the mandatory 22-month national service required by his native Singapore. Tai has seemingly earned a consistent place in the starting lineup this spring with two fall wins, including one at the Golf Club of Georgia. … It’s amazing the difference one player can make. Virginia, still searching for its first ACC title and first trip to nationals since it finished 10th in 2017, added freshman Ben James into the fold this season and James started his college career win, third, win. … After nearly winning a Korn Ferry Tour event last summer, junior Cole Anderson has taken charge atop Florida State’s lineup – a runner-up and no finish worse than T-13 in four fall starts. Fellow junior Brett Roberts has bounced back after a so-so-sophomore season with four top-13 finishes as well. If the third junior standout on the roster, Frederik Kjettrup, gets back to the way he played last season, the Seminoles have the makings of a team capable of returning to NCAA match play after getting to the quarterfinals two years ago at Grayhawk. … Sophomore Kelly Chinn, ranked nearly outside the top 200 of Golfstat, was shockingly average in the fall, and it showed in Duke’s results as the Blue Devils won once, at a weak Georgetown event, before beating just three teams at the Golf Club of Georgia. … The reigning ACC champion, Wake Forest, is having a hard time adjusting to life after Alex Fitzpatrick. Junior Michael Brennan turned in a disastrous fall – T-75, T-44, T-47, T-41 – and is a big reason why the Demon Deacons are sitting well below .500 at 19-35. Since NCAA regionals began in 1989, Wake has missed sending a team just once (1999), but that could change this spring, especially since the Deacs’ schedule, which was tough in the fall, doesn’t get any easier. … Like most falls, Notre Dame was busy, playing five events. Unlike recent falls, the Fighting Irish failed to notch a top-3 finish in any of them, and moving forward, they could use some help behind seniors Palmer Jackson and Taichi Kho.
Pick to win: North Carolina
Championship info: April 28-30, Galloway National Golf Club, Galloway, N.J.
Recent champions: Illinois (2022), Illinois (2021), Illinois (2019), Illinois (2018), Illinois (2017), Illinois (2016), Illinois (2015), Minnesota (2014)
Team rankings: Illinois (7), Ohio State (24), Purdue (28), Northwestern (38), Michigan State (55), Indiana (66), Nebraska (73), Wisconsin (79), Minnesota (82), Iowa (91), Rutgers (92), Penn State (97), Michigan (109), Maryland (189)
Midseason All-Conference Team: Tommy Kuhl, Sr., Illinois (10); Adrien Dumont de Chassart, Sr., Illinois (13); Herman Wibe Sekne, Jr., Purdue (18); Maxwell Moldovan, Jr., Ohio State (21); Drew Salyers, Jr., Indiana (39)
What to watch: It’s hard to keep a Mike Small-coached team down for long. Illinois failed to qualify for nationals last season for the first time since 2007. The Illini had made match play at NCAAs the spring prior, the seventh time they’d done so since match play was implemented at the NCAA Championship in 2009. But last fall, Illinois showed it’s once again an NCAA title contender, winning twice and not finishing worse than third. Most impressive was a T-2 at Olympia Fields, where seniors Adrien Dumont de Chassart and Tommy Kuhl each notched top-5s. They have combined for five total top-5s (Kuhl has three of them) and boast identical scoring averages (70.9 in 12 rounds played). The only thing Small needs is a better fifth scorer. Yet, even without one, it’s a decent bet that Illinois takes its 13th Big Ten title in its past 14 tries. … If not Illinois in the Big Ten, then it’s probably Ohio State, which is led by junior Maxwell Moldovan, who has three top-6 finishes this season. Fellow junior Adam Wallin has been good, too, capping his fall with a co-victory at the Cal Poly Invitational, which the Buckeyes won as a team. A second straight ticket to Grayhawk is in the cards, but the back of the lineup is a concern right now. … Purdue turned an average fall into a successful one with a fourth at Isleworth, and junior Herman Wibe Sekne might be deserving of a spot on the next Haskins Award watch list if he continues his stellar play from the fall – four top-10s, including a runner-up at Purdue’s home tournament. The Boilermakers haven’t won the Big Ten since 1981, but this is their best chance in a few years. … Only Army failed to beat Northwestern to begin the fall at Olympia Fields, but the Wildcats responded by winning their next time out, at the Windon Memorial, and later added runner-up finishes to Auburn and Ohio State. Northwestern surely won’t be on the regional bubble this spring, but it needs more outside of seniors James Imai and David Nyfjall, the only Wildcats ranked better than No. 294 (they’re Nos. 125 and 132, respectively), if it wants to punch its NCAA Championship ticket for the second time since 2011. … Michigan State head coach Casey Lubahn kept his team busy last fall with six 54-hole events. And though the Spartans notched just two top-5s, they played well enough to rank inside the regional bubble with just four stroke-play events remaining on their schedule before the Big Ten Championship. … Rankings-wise, Indiana is fighting for a regional berth, but at 34-45, the .500 rule could have something to say about the Hoosiers’ postseason fate as well.
Pick to win: Illinois
Championship info: April 24-26, Prairie Dunes Country Club, Hutchinson, Kansas
Recent champions: Oklahoma (2022), Oklahoma State (2021), Oklahoma State (2019), Oklahoma (2018), Texas (2017), Texas (2016), Texas (2015), Texas (2014)
Team rankings: Texas Tech (3), Oklahoma (15), Oklahoma State (16), Texas (20), Kansas State (18), Baylor (30), TCU (36), Kansas (51), Iowa State (78), West Virginia (105)
Midseason All-Conference Team: Calum Scott, Soph., Texas Tech (3); Ludvig Aberg, Sr., Texas Tech (5); Jonas Baumgartner, Jr., Oklahoma State (11); Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen, Sr., Oklahoma State (12); Christiaan Maas, Fr., Texas (14)
What to watch: When you have the world No. 1 amateur, life is good, and that’s just what Texas Tech has in senior Ludvig Aberg. But you know what’s even better? When he’s not even the top-ranked player on your roster when it comes to Golfstat; that title belongs to sophomore Calum Scott, who matched Aberg with three top-8s in three fall events. The Red Raiders won twice and didn’t finish worse than third as a team, and they did most of that without junior Baard Skogen, who was battling a back injury; Skogen returned for the Big 12 Match Play, and if he’s healthy, Texas Tech could be the best team in the country come May. … For the most part, Oklahoma looked good in the fall – a win, two other top-3s and a 4-1 showing at the Big 12 Match Play. But the barometer was Colonial, and that’s where the Sooners finished T-12 of 16 teams, 30 shots behind winner North Carolina. Transfer Luke Kluver has yet to be the answer like Chris Gotterup and Jonathan Brightwell were before him, though the emergence of freshman Jase Summy (No. 35 in Golfstat; two top-5s) and junior Jake Holbrook (No. 59; two top-10s) means Oklahoma can’t be counted out when it comes to defending its Big 12 title and making NCAA match play for the seventh straight time. … Oklahoma State has taken a few punches – Eugenio Chacarra turned pro, senior Brian Stark transferred to Texas this winter and senior Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen played well but was banged up. As a result, the depth just isn’t there this year, so Neergaard-Petersen and sophomore Jonas Baumgartner, a runner-up at Seminole, will be required to carry the load this spring if the Cowboys, sixth or worse in their three stroke-play events, want to avoid missing out on the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2012. Especially since junior Bo Jin continues to struggle at the college level. He was recently runner-up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, but since totaling six top-10s his freshman season, including runners-up at conference, regionals and nationals, Jin has just two total. Plus, in three starts last fall, he failed to crack the top 25. … The reigning NCAA champions are in a bit of trouble, too. Texas enters the spring 20-24-2 and with a roster that is out of sync. Only twice since NCAA regionals began in 1989 has a defending NCAA champ failed to make it to regionals the following season – Pepperdine in 1998 and Cal in 2005. Senior Travis Vick was slow out of the gates before capping his fall with back-to-back top-10s while freshman Christiaan Maas has been mostly outstanding with four top-20s highlighted by a T-3 at Colonial. However, senior Mason Nome struggled in the fall after a dazzling spring last year and the other freshmen did little. The arrivals of Oklahoma State transfer Brian Stark and freshman Tommy Morrison midseason should help the competition back home, but neither has shown much in recent months. There’s just a ton of question marks, yet at the same time, the stars are there to potentially align again for the Longhorns, who did play the toughest fall schedule, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. … Kansas State won three times to kick off the fall before finishing sixth at the Big 12 Match Play. However, it’s worth noting that the Wildcats played the third easiest fall schedule of teams ranked in Golfweek’s top 50. So, Kansas State still has much to prove as it chases not only its first NCAA Championship team berth but also its first top-3 finish ever at the Big-12 Championship. … Baylor was another team that finished last season below .500, but the Bears scheduled better this time around, and when they have played against the elite teams, they’ve done alright, notably tying for eighth at Olympia Fields. Another Dossey is starring in Waco, too, as senior Luke Dossey has two top-10s among four top-25s and is ranked No. 50 in Golfstat. … This season marks the last for longtime TCU head coach Bill Montigel, 68, whose contract was not renewed this summer after 36 years leading the Horned Frogs. Last season, TCU failed to qualify for regionals, snapping a 31-year streak of making the postseason. Thought they should start a new regional run this May, TCU is going to need more behind senior Gustav Frimodt, who won individually at Colonial as TCU tied for ninth, easily the team’s best performance of the fall.
Pick to win: Oklahoma
Championship info: April 28-30, Stanford Golf Course, Stanford, California
Recent champions: Washington (2022), Arizona (2021), Stanford (2019), USC (2018), Oregon (2017), Stanford (2016), Stanford (2015), Stanford (2014)
Team rankings: Arizona State (4), Stanford (6), Arizona (22), Oregon (26), Washington (29), Colorado (52), USC (67), Oregon State (70), Cal (72), Washington State (90), Utah (106), UCLA (140)
Midseason All-Conference Team: Michael Thorbjornsen, Jr., Stanford (2); Ryggs Johnston, Sr., Arizona State (8); Preston Summerhays, Soph., Arizona State (19); Owen Avrit, Soph., Oregon (36); Ethan Ng, Sr., Stanford (40)
What to watch: With David Puig departing the team for the pro ranks shortly before the fall started, Arizona State was going to need a couple players to step up and fill the void. While sophomore Preston Summerhays has continued his elite play with a pair of top-10s and nothing worse than a T-17 at Olympia Fields, its fifth-year senior Ryggs Johnston (two top-5s) and freshman Michael Mjaaseth who have been the most pleasant of surprises. Though the Sun Devils, who somehow haven’t captured the Pac-12 title since 2008, won the East Lake Cup, a fourth at Olympia Fields and T-3 at Colonial were arguably more impressive. … For as good as Arizona State was in the fall, Stanford is right on its heels – and it gets to host Pac-12s this April. Behind Haskins Award contender Michael Thorbjornsen, the Cardinal posted two statement victories at Olympia Fields (Thorbjornsen medaled there) and Golf Club of Georgia. And there’s room for improvement, too, as senior Barclay Brown and junior Karl Vilips combined for just one top-10 in the fall. … Head coach Jim Anderson challenged his Arizona squad with a tough schedule, so that explains the three finishes of seventh or worse. While the Wildcats would be a surprise Pac-12 champ, they still are plenty good enough to get to Grayhawk, though it would help their prospects if senior Chase Sienkiewicz (No. 111 in Golfstat) ups his game into All-America territory. … Sophomore Owen Avrit had a breakout fall for Oregon, notching three top-10s, including a co-victory at Cal Poly’s event. The Ducks, though, finished sixth in that fall finale, which shows that behind Avrit, there is a lot of uncertainty. … Reigning Pac-12 champion Washington expectedly took a step back last fall after losing its best two players, RJ Manke and Noah Woolsey, to graduation. Senior Petr Hruby is the team’s top-ranked player, at No. 64 in Golfstat, but an injury limited him to just three of five tournaments, and head coach Alan Murray had nine different players play at least one event in the starting five. … Sophomore Dylan McDermott’s fall-opening win at the Fighting Irish Classic set the tone for a solid fall by the Buffaloes, who posted a pair of runner-up showings and are in position to qualify for regionals for the first time since 2018. … USC might be on the regional bubble entering the spring, but at 20-48, the Trojans are in danger when it comes to the .500 rule.
Pick to win: Stanford
Championship info: April 19-23, Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside), St. Simons Island, Georgia
Recent champions: Vanderbilt (2022), Vanderbilt (2021), Arkansas (2019), Auburn (2018), Vanderbilt (2017), Georgia (2016), LSU (2015), Alabama (2014)
Team rankings: Auburn (1), Vanderbilt (2), Tennessee (8), Florida (9), Texas A&M (11), Alabama (17), Mississippi State (23), LSU (27), Georgia (31), Arkansas (39), Ole Miss (46), Missouri (48), South Carolina (61), Kentucky (94)
Midseason All-Conference Team: Gordon Sargent, Soph., Vanderbilt (1); Cole Sherwood, Jr., Vanderbilt (24); Matthew Riedel, Sr., Vanderbilt (25); Brendan Valdes, Soph., Auburn (28); Caleb Surratt, Fr., Tennessee (30)
What to watch: You think Auburn head coach Nick Clinard and his players have heard enough about Vanderbilt and North Carolina? Truth is, the Tigers can hang, and they proved their worth as Golfstat’s No. 1 team with three fall victories and a third at the SEC Fall Preview. Auburn is a legit six deep with six guys ranked No. 103 or better. While junior J.M. Butler remains this team’s horse with two top-3s this season, sophomores Brendan Valdes and Evan Vo lead the team with seven rounds in the 60s each. And junior Carson Bacha, winner of this winter’s Orlando International Amateur, had three top-11s and fellow junior Ryan Eshelman shot 60 in his first competitive round of the fall. … Speaking of Vanderbilt; there is arguably no team in the country more talented top to bottom. That’s not to say they’ve been perfect, evidenced by a fifth at Colonial, but the Commodores do boast three fall wins and three players on the Haskins Award watch list – sophomore Gordon Sargent, junior Cole Sherwood and senior Matthew Riedel. Sargent and Riedel have each won tournaments this season, as has senior William Moll. If senior Reid Davenport can get the putter sorted out, that’ll be the missing piece. But don’t be surprised to see sophomore and former AJGA hotshot Jackson Van Paris have an impactful spring. After making match play six times in the past seven NCAA Championships, it’s national title or bust for this group. … There was little surprise in the fall for Tennessee, which won an event (two if you count a match-play win over Vandy at the SEC Fall Preview) and ended up ranked in the top 10. Freshman Caleb Surratt also has been as good as advertised, winning in his college debut and adding a top-5 at the Golf Club of Georgia. If anything, the rest of the roster has been inconsistent, even junior Bryce Lewis, who won at Purdue. The January arrival of freshman Josh Hill of Dubai should help. Hill won a Mena Tour event at age 15, and last year, he made back-to-back cuts on the DP World Tour. If the Vols make it to national this year, it will be just the second time in nine years they’ve done so. Their last SEC title? That came in 2007. … Florida has looked like an NCAA title contender (won Fighting Irish Classic; second at Olympia Fields and Isleworth) and a team that could struggle to play 72 holes Grayhawk (10th at SEC Fall Preview; T-9 at Colonial). With all the talent in Gainesville, it was junior Quentin Debove who counted in 15 of 15 rounds as he had three top-12s, the same number as seniors Fred Biondi, Ricky Castillo and John Dubois combined. Castillo has been a concern; he looked like the Ricky of old with a T-2 at Olympia Fields, but he also finished 60th or worse twice and wasn’t much better at the Jones Cup a few weeks ago (T-52). … Texas A&M won twice in the fall, and that was with senior Sam Bennett notching just one top-10 and two finishes outside the top 25. Junior Daniel Rodrigues picked up the slack, though, winning the Blessings event and adding a T-5 at the SEC Fall Preview, while senior William Paysse failed to advance to final stage of Q-School last fall and is back for his last semester. … After finishing below .500 last season, Alabama enters the spring with a 23-win cushion in head-to-heads and should not only make it back to regionals but have a good shot at returning to nationals for the first time since 2018, when it was the national runner-up to Oklahoma State. Senior Canon Claycomb began his fall win-eighth, but a solo 67th at the Golf Club of Georgia was a tough one to swallow as it relates to his Haskins Award chances. Expect a more consistent spring out of Claycomb, though it’s possible that Alabama’s freshman – Nick Dunlap (three top-15s) and Jonathan Griz (T-15 at Golf Club of Georgia to end fall) – pace the Tide for the rest of the season. … Mississippi State hasn’t been to the NCAA Championship since 2008, and it hasn’t won the SEC since 1997. The latter drought may not end this spring, but a trip to Grayhawk is in the cards for head coach Dusty Smith’s squad, which capped its fall with a win at Daniel Island and boasts a solid one-two punch of sophomore Garrett Endicott (No. 74 in Golfstat) and senior Ford Clegg (No. 84). … A slumping Cohen Trolio (no top-25s in three fall starts) has kept LSU from being more than a middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC. … Georgia (24-31) and Arkansas (13-23-1) will have the .500 rule on their minds this spring. Neither team has more than one top-100 player, though if you’re the Razorbacks, you’re hoping senior Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira’s Latin America Amateur victory sparks something as the All-American ended the fall ranked No. 211 in Golfstat.
Pick to win: Vanderbilt
Top teams: Pepperdine (14), San Diego State (19), Colorado State (21), Georgia Southern (25), Lipscomb (32), Cincinnati (35), Liberty (40), North Florida (42), Little Rock (43), East Tennessee State (45), Marquette (47), SMU (49), UNCG (50)
Top players: Garrison Smith, Sr., New Mexico State (6); Connor Jones, Sr., Colorado State (7); Nick Gabrelcik, Jr., North Florida (9); Kieron van Wyk, Fr., College of Charleston (15); Shea Lague, Soph., San Diego State (20); Derek Hitchner, Sr., Pepperdine (29); Ian Gilligan, Soph., Long Beach State (33); Brady McKinlay, Sr., UT-Rio Grant Valley (38); Tyler Goecke, Sr., Wright State (42); William Mouw, Sr., Pepperdine (43)
What to watch: Few teams lost as much as Pepperdine did from a season ago; the Waves graduated Joey Vrzich and Joe Highsmith, while Dylan Menante transferred to North Carolina. So, head coach Michael Beard loaded up on a few transfers of his own, and though only senior Sam Choi (No. 106 in Golfstat) has made a significant impact among the new faces, seniors William Mouw and Derek Hitchner have each done their part to keep the Waves among the country’s best. Throw out a 13th-place finish at Olympia Fields to start the fall and Pepperdine was T-3 and T-2 in its other two stroke-play tournaments – good ones, too, in Colonial and Golf Club of Georgia. Mouw went runner-up, T-3 after a T-60 in Chicago while Hitchner capped his fall with back-to-back top-10s. … Led by sophomore Shea Lague and his three top-20s, San Diego State boasts five players in the top 200 of Golfstat. It wasn’t that long ago, 2012 to be exact, that the Aztecs made NCAA match play; this team, though it will take some work, is capable of that. … After head coach Christian Newton retired in July, Colorado State quickly hired Michael Wilson from Long Beach State and the Rams nearly pulled off a perfect fall with three wins and a second. Senior Connor Jones has two individual titles and is ranked top 10 in Golfstat. Not to rain on any parades, but proper perspective needs to be given; Colorado State’s schedule, at No. 166, is the third easiest among top-100 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. That said, the Rams are capable of making it to Grayhawk. … Consistently one of the best mid-majors, the fall was no different for Georgia Southern, which won the Gopher and placed second at the Fighting Irish Classic. Some momentum has since been lost, but having senior Ben Carr (three top-10s) atop the lineup never hurts.