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.
Maria Fassi, left, with Annika Sorenstam, center (Annika Foundation photo)
Just try to name two LPGA rookies who hit the professional ranks with more fanfare than Jennifer Kupcho
and Maria Fassi
, and who, like the aforementioned women, also held college degrees. Things have changed in women’s college golf. Female collegians can defer LPGA status earned at mid-season Q-School to finish their commitment to their teams (as these two did) and compete on the largest stage at Augusta National.
Now the only question is, how do you replace a Kupcho and Fassi? Time will tell if the Augusta stage will put more female collegians in the kind of spotlight that Kupcho and Fassi enjoyed. Perhaps it was the magic of the moment last April when the two seniors, from Wake Forest and Arkansas, respectively, dueled down the stretch. Perhaps it was the magic of the individuals. Regardless, we need more data, and we’ll get it over the course of the next year.
On Monday, Fassi donned a Minnesota Twins jersey and accepted the Annika Award, as college golf's top player, for the second consecutive time. Namesake Annika Sorenstam presented it to the now-professional during the Twins vs. White Sox game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The Annika Intercollegiate, a tournament Fassi won in 2017, is being played this week at Royal Golf Club in Eden Prairie, Minn. It features one of the top fields in women’s golf.
That’s an excellent opportunity to do some sizing up. Where Arkansas and Wake Forest are concerned, particularly, there hardly seems reason to panic. Wake Forest’s two lowest scores in the opening round of the Annika came from its two freshmen, Rachel Kuehn
and Lauren Walsh
. Junior Emilia Migliaccio
returns after a 3-0 performance at NCAAs and a gold medal at the Pan American games in August. The Demon Deacons led through two rounds.
Arkansas was right behind them despite having three new freshman faces in the lineup in Julia Gregg
, Ela Anacona
and Kajal Mistry
Wake Forest head coach Kim Luellen had this to say last spring when asked the kind of impact that Kupcho had on her teammates, particularly up-and-coming talent Migliaccio: “I think Jen has been such a strong leader, a strong player, it helps Emilia continue to push harder because she has the No. 1 amateur in the world on her team. I think it helps to have her there as an example.”
The fact is that the bar is high in women’s golf – maybe higher than ever after last spring. Our best thoughts on an heir (or heirs apparent) this season? Don’t overlook Florida State sophomore Frida Kinhult
, another Annika Award finalist form last season; U.S. Women’s Am winner Gabriela Ruffels
(USC) and runner-up Andrea Lee
(Stanford) or Florida senior Sierra Brooks
, runner-up to Fassi at last year’s NCAAs.
Where men’s golf is concerned, now that the Walker Cup is over, college golf’s players are back on American soil this week for the true start to the college season. Much may be revealed at the OFCC/Fighting Illini Invitational. The 15-team field includes Pepperdine, host Illinois, Alabama, Baylor, California, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Indiana, North Carolina, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and UNLV.
Like women’s college golf in the 2018-19 season, two Oklahoma State teammates seemed to capture all the headlines for having something their peers didn’t. Matthew Wolff
brought a quirky yet undeniably powerful move to college golf that resulted in six individual titles (which included the NCAA title). Viktor Hovland
, who played his junior season as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, had a Tour readiness that’s serving him well now as a professional.
The next headline-steeling collegians will need a blend of both ability and, let’s face it, marketability. Cole Hammer
, the Texas sophomore who has proved menacing in match play, has a surname that matches his game. It’s hard not to take note.
Past Hammer, there’s John Augenstein
, a fellow Walker Cupper often called a bulldog in match play (Augenstein acknowledged that nickname during the U.S. Amateur, and didn’t seem to hate it). Keep an eye on Pepperdine redshirt senior Sahith Theegala
as he returns from a season out with a wrist injury as well as Arizona State senior Chun An Yu
(the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com World Rankings) and John Pak
, man of the match for the American Walker Cup team thanks to a 3-0 record at Royal Liverpool.