By Ron Balicki, Golfweek
Heading into the spring season the big, burning question within the Big 12 -- and the nation for that matter -- is: How will Texas respond to the loss of sophomore Jordan Spieth, who turned pro in mid-December?
Spieth was the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year last season while gaining first-team All-American honors and helping lead the Longhorns to their first NCAA title since 1972.
Texas finished the fall season No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, thanks in part to Spieth, who in three starts posted two top-five showings (T-2 at Carpet Capital and fifth at Isleworth).
For veteran Longhorns coach John Fields, it means finding someone who will step up and fill some impressive shoes -- a most difficult task but one which he has dealt with in the past, including to start the current season.
“After last season we lost a first-team All-American in Dylan Frittelli (a senior who sank the title-clinching birdie putt for Texas at the NCAA), but then (freshman) Brandon Stone came in this year and has done a fantastic job for us,” Fields said. “He won his first tournament as a college player (Carpet Capital) and had strong showings at the Preview and Isleworth and is ranked No. 3 in the Sagarin.”
“Jordan turning pro didn’t come as a big shock to us,” Fields said. “Now it’s time to move on and hopefully someone will step up and help fill some of that void.”
One could be Beau Hossler, one of the country’s top junior players who will enroll at Texas this month for the spring semester. According to Fields, the original plan was to have Hossler not play this spring in order to get himself acclimated with the school, classwork and teammates.
Fields said that still might be the case. After Hossler makes his way on campus, begins classes and starts working out with the team, Fields said the two would evaluate the situation and come up with a decision that works best for the young standout and the team.
“We’ll give it a bit of time and see where we stand,” Fields said. “Right now it’s up in the air (whether Hossler plays this spring). We certainly want to do what we all feel is best for Beau and his college career.”
No matter how that shakes out, Fields remains confident the Longhorns will still be a team to reckon with for the rest of the season.
“Considering we’ve lost Dylan and Jordan since the end of last season, I still feel we are in as good a position as possible,” he said. “I really like where we are going into the future. We still have three players off our national championship team (Julio Vegas, Cody Gribble and Toni Hakula), plus a very good freshman in Brandon. And Vegas and Gribble have been third-team All-Americans over the last two years so we know they have talent, as does Hakula.”
The Big 12 has nine teams competing in golf. After last season, Texas A&M, the defending conference champions, and Missouri left to join the Southeastern Conference. TCU is one of the league’s newcomers and has long held a national golfing prominence. West Virginia also is new. The Mountainers dropped their men’s golf program in 1982, but is expected to get it going again in the near future.
Among the leading Big 12 title contenders are Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma, along with TCU. After winning seven consecutive league titles since 2005, Oklahoma State had an off season in 2011-2012 (when it lost three first-team All-Americans, including Peter Uihlein after the fall campaign). The Cowboys finished sixth at the Big 12 tournament and for the first time in more than 60 years failed to qualify for the NCAA finals.
Of the nine conference teams, five finished the fall ranked in the top 50 with three others in the top 100. Overall, the league fared well in the fall with seven teams finishing with a better than .500 won-lost record. However, only Texas and Oklahoma State posted winning marks against top-50 competition.
It should be an interesting spring for this conference and while the Longhorns are still the team to beat and should be favored to win their first Big 12 title since winning three in a row (2002-2004), it very well could be a wide open race come conference tournament time in April.