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Nine for '19, No. 6: Reloading and filling the void
02 Sep 2019
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

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David Snyder (Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications)
David Snyder (Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications)

With a new college golf season approaching, we present our “Nine for ‘19” series. In the countdown to the first major weekend of college competition, we take a look at the nine best storylines for the fall. Consider this your primer for one of our favorite parts of the game.

It can be hard for a team returning as the defending national champions to scratch out a role as the underdog. Losing two players ranked inside the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking helps that narrative.

Stanford head coach Conrad Ray likes when his players have to fight hard and prove themselves. He'd rather start a season in that position than at the top of the pile. Truthfully, there are shades of both in Stanford's season-opening story.

“It’s a balance between we have a really good team, we have a deep team, we have a new opportunity, we have a bunch of guys who had great experiences last year, and we have a great incoming freshman,” said Ray. “You couple that with, ‘Ok guys, who’s the person we’re going to look to day in and day out to be a counter?’”

When Stanford won the NCAA Championship in May, seniors Brandon Wu and Isaiah Salinda went 3-0 in match play. They went 1-2 in scoring for the season (with averages of 70.62 and 70.83, respectively) and combined for three individual titles. Still, there was more to the Cardinal highlight reel from last season. In short, Wu and Salinda weren’t the only players contributing to Stanford’s success.

Before Stanford won for the first time last season at its own Goodwin in March (which kick-started five straight wins to end the spring), the results had been relatively bleak. Much was made of that, but from Ray’s vantage point, the goal was also to tinker with the lineup and find out what works. Ray’s coaching mantra has been to figure out what lessons can be learned in the fall that will prepare his team for experiences down the road.

“Granted, that maybe doesn’t make for as many headlines in terms of the results, but I think it’s good preparation,” he said.

Academics are no slouch at Stanford – then again, that’s why the men who end up there, end up there. Ray thinks his guys need to be under the heat that comes from balancing academics and athletics.

When Stanford won the national title last spring, Ray spoke of upping the intensity. That meant that after the first half of the season ended, Ray decided to double down instead of letting up. His men practiced diligently to prepare for the spring season.

Even if the team “didn’t love it” then, it was ultimately what equipped the Cardinal to make a deep run in the postseason. Some of that, of course, will carry over.

Stanford returns three men from its national championship squad, including seniors David Snyder and Henry Shimp, who both ended last season inside the top 90 in Golfweek’s individual college rankings. Daulet Tuleubayev was instrumental in the national-title run – his 1-up victory over Vanderbilt’s Harrison Ott in the semifinals clinched a finals berth – and he’ll be a sophomore this season.

Junior Nate Menon and sophomores Ethan Ng and Freddie Lee all made at least five tournament starts last season, too. Plus, Ray brings in freshman Barclay Brown, an under-the-radar Englishman who was a semifinalist at the British Boys Amateur this past summer.

“We’re going to have some bad weeks as we reboot here, but I think we have the potential to be really good, too,” Ray said.

In fact, “reboot” may be the buzzword for the coming season, considering that one of the most high-profile teams in the sport is doing it, too. The big burning question of the season is how Oklahoma State will fare without four of the five starters that made the Cowboys look so invincible in a six-win 2018-19 season.

Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland, Zach Bauchou and Hayden Wood are all gone, leaving just Austin Eckroat behind to carry the torch. There are four freshmen on the Cowboys’ eight-man roster, and only one player besides Eckroat – Aman Gupta – made more than one start in the team lineup during the 2018-19 season.

The predictions for Oklahoma State’s season are all over the place. The team didn’t make Golfweek’s preseason top 30, but were slotted into the preseason No. 23 spot by Golf Channel. Remarkably, in the preseason coaches poll, Oklahoma State checked in at No. 4, and even received three first-place votes from coaches.

Other teams lost virtually no one as they return for this season. Arizona State, winner of four events last season, made as many 2018-19 headlines as any team not named Oklahoma State – until the national championship. The Sun Devils didn’t even make the first cut to 15 teams, which was hugely disappointing and likely didn’t sit very well. They return all but one player, Jino Sohn, who made limited starts.

“It’s cool when anybody in our lineup could win at any given point. We all just push each other,” Sun Devil senior Blake Wagoner said at the Players Amateur over the summer. “It’s a good group of guys and we’ll have everybody back next year, too, so this next year should be better.”

Wagoner checked in at No. 105 in the season-ending Golfweek/Sagarin individual ranking. Five teammates were ahead of him, including No. 5 Chun-An Yu.

Among Golfweek’s top 20 ranked men at the end of last season, only eight return (with Yu in the lead). Among the top 20-ranked women, 15 will return.

Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho and Arkansas’ Maria Fassi are the big hitters on the list of most-missed players. The Razorbacks lost three other impactful seniors, too, in Dylan Kim, Kaylee Benton and Cara Gorlei. That team could have a much different look.

As for Wake Forest, runner-up to Duke at the NCAA Championship, junior Emilia Migliaccio looks ready to slide into the top spot. She won three times individually last season, went 3-0 in NCAA match play and comes off a summer in which she won the gold medal at the Pan American Games.

“I always try to set an example and just be kind to other people and just lead by example. That’s the way I’m going to be a leader on the team,” said Migliaccio, who will do it – as she does everything – with a smile.

Duke returns nearly its entire roster from last spring’s national-championship run but for Virginia Elena-Carta. The Blue Devils will also benefit from the addition of two heralded freshman: Erica Shepherd and Megan Furtney, who combined to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May.

USC has no voids to fill, which makes them the consensus No. 1 team across three preseason polls. Advantage: Trojans.

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