NCAA Division I Men's National Championship: Six storylines to watch
Fred Biondi won the individual and team titles in 2023 (NCAA Photo)
Fred Biondi won the individual and team titles in 2023 (NCAA Photo)

La Costa is set to host the NCAA Men's National Championship starting on May 24. The event has a 72-hole stroke play qualifier for match play. An individual champion will be crowned following the 72 holes. The team title goes to the match play winner. 

There are a lot of questions and storylines brewing as the first tee shot nears. Here are six that would make this week's event very interesting.

Will we see a "Fred Biondi Double" this year? 

Last year, Florida’s Fred Biondi won the individual title at Greyhawk before helping the Gators clinch the national title. A stupendous achievement for the decorated yet underappreciated senior. The leaderboard last year was a bit of a surprise, as Biondi beat Jackson Buchanan, an Illinois freshman and Georgia Tech’s Ross Steelman. 

Of course, North Carolina has a few players who could go low and win the individual title. David Ford has been known to get hot and Austin Greaser has been trending upwards in the recent months. Two-time Northeast Amateur champion Dylan Menante also has championship experience to drawn upon; he won in 2021 with Pepperdine and also reached the semi-finals of the 2022 U.S. Amateur. 

Gordon Sargent already won an individual title as a freshman in 2022. A second title and a Masters invitation would be a lot sweeter with a team title to go with it. 

Jackson Koivun, who joined Rickie Fowler as the only freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award, could do what Gordon Sargent did in 2022 and win the national title as a freshman. Koivun shot three straight rounds of 66 to win the SEC Championship. Auburn is one of the big favorites this week to win the team title. 

If you’re looking for someone a little bit off the radar to win the individual and team titles, Florida State’s Luke Clanton is another proven player on a team that could certainly contend this week. 

Given the Pac-12 dominance on the women’s side (more on that later), Michael Thorbjornsen would have to be on this list, too. The PGA Tour U’s top-ranked player was a big reason Stanford clawed their way into the trip to the National Championship after a bogey-free 64 on the final day at regionals. He’s no stranger to high pressure, he beat Akshay Bhatia in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2018 and won the Western Amateur in 2021 when he beat Gordon Sargent in the final. 

The exciting part of the individual title is the potential of earning an invite to The Masters in 2024. The player would have to remain an amateur, so if a mix of young and old players are in the mix, they could be thinking about the opportunity to win in very different ways. 

The last chance to earn PGA Tour U points.

The latest PGA Tour U rankings were released on Wednesday. This week’s national championship is the last chance for players to earn points and move up or down the rankings. 

It seems like Michael Thorbjornsen has a stranglehold on the top spot, and the PGA Tour Card that comes with that position. However, some other spots are still up for grabs because being fifth instead of sixth matters a lot, and finishing inside the top 10 and top 25 also matters to players with plans of turning professional.

Vanderbilt’s William Moll and Florida State’s Frederik Kjettrup are currently ranked sixth and seventh behind Nick Gabrelcik. All three players will be in La Costa vying for that top 5 slot because that would earn them Korn Ferry exemption into all open, full-field Korn Ferry Tour events starting the week after the National Championship. 

Conditional status is granted to players ranked 6-10. Gustav Frimodt of TCU is the only layer in the top 15 who is not competing this week. He’s currently ranked No. 9 after dropping two spots last week. Michael Brennan (No. 10) Mats Ege (No. 11) and Sampson Zheng (No. 12) will be trying to jump safely inside the top 10. 

It's far more interesting at the top 25 cutoff. Those players get exemptions “into all open, full-field Segment II—North America Swing events beginning the week following the conclusion of the NCAA Division-I National Championship through the end of the current PGA TOUR Americas season.” 

Florida State seniors Cole Anderson (No. 26) and Brett Roberts (No. 28) have a chance to move up as a handful of players around them are not teeing it up this week. No. 25 Ben Van Wyk and No. 23 Santiago De La Fuente are both at home watching the proceedings and hoping they hold onto their spots. 

Players who don’t play can’t earn points, obviously, but they also do not have a new divisor to lose points, so their number is set.

Austin Greaser, who is third in the PGA Tour U after winning the Chapel Hill Regional, said he doesn’t think much about the rankings and that the results come with good golf. It will be interesting to see if any players get caught up in trying to force the issue or allow thoughts of the future to creep into their process this week. 

Will there be a West Coast Bias? 

The women’s semi-final featured four teams from the Pac-12: Oregon, Stanford, Southern California, and UCLA. This was quite the final showing in the conference’s final year of existence. It was the first time any conference had four teams in the semi-final. 

That begs the question—could this happen on the men’s side, too? Is La Costa a place for West Coast teams to succeed?

If that’s the case, then California could surprise people, while Arizona and Stanford could get a big boost and make a run at the title. 

California has lost to just four teams in the last three events. Senior Sampson Zheng has been playing very well, finishing fourth in the Western Intercollegiate, sixth in the Pac-12, and second in the Rancho Santa Fe Regional. 

Per a great state from College Golf Book, the last three national champions were two seeds in their Region Qualifier and finished fourth in the event. Arizona, another Pac-12 team, was a two-seed this year and finished fourth in the Lafayette Regional. Western Intercollegiate winner Filip Jakubcik, along with Tiger Christiansen and Zach Pollo, will play a big role for the Wildcats.

Stanford barely snuck into the National Championship. On a topsy-turvy final day on their home course, they made up strokes down the stretch on the backs of senior leaders Barclay Brown, Michael Thorbjornsen, and Karl Vilips. They would love nothing more than to match their fellow Cardinal on the women’s side and reach the finals this week.

Is Clemson hot or happy to be there?

The biggest surprise regional winner was probably Clemson in the Chapel Hill Regional. The Tigers were a ten-seed and had not finished inside the top five of a tournament since March. Calahan Keever, their No. 5 player, was exceptional at Chapel Hill, leading the Tigers with a T5 finish. Their No. 1, Jonathan Nielsen, finished seventh in Chapel Hill. After doing so well close to home, the regional win feels like the culmination of their season and less a launching pad for bigger things across the country in La Costa.

Can Vanderbilt break through?

The loaded Commodores roster missed match play last year after reaching the semi-finals in 2022 before losing to eventual champion Texas. 

Now, like Texas in 2022 and Florida last year, Vanderbilt is the veteran team instead of the precocious pack with years of opportunities ahead of them. Gordon Sargent and Jackson Van Paris are juniors, Cole Sherwood is a senior, and William Moll and Matthew Riedel are graduate students. Given the experience those five players have together as a team and individually in major amateur events, it feels like it’s time for these Commodores to reach a national final and punctuate the past three years of dominance they’ve displayed during the regular season. 

Is Texas... a darkhorse?

The Longhorns have an incredible pedigree, but after winning the 2022 and losing so many players to graduation, John Fields had to reload his roster. It didn’t go great in 2023; they reached the National Championship but missed the 54-hole cut.

After a disappointing 15th-place finish in the Amer Ari Invitational in February, the team rededicated itself. That came in the form of putting phones away during practice and making an effort to improve their games and get back on track. 

It worked. They recorded five top-3 finishes, including wins in the Big-12 Championship and the Austin Regional, where they took care of home course advantage.

With all the buzz around Auburn, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina, Texas could ride their hot play and remind everyone just how good Longhorn golf has been over the years.

Could it really be Auburn, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and everyone else?

If you could take the three top-ranked teams or everyone else to win the title, who would you take? It’s a tough proposition. Arizona State eliminated itself when it didn’t qualify out of its region as the No. 1 seed, a disastrous end to its season. 

However, teams like Florida State, Tennessee, and Texas seem poised to contend. 

Oklahoma, who didn’t come into regionals playing great golf most of the spring has a veteran coach in Ryan Hybl and talented roster with some young guns like freshman Ryder Cowan and sophomore Jase Summy along with veterans Drew Goodman, Luke Kluver, Ben Lorenz.

Last year, Florida State reached the semi-final before losing to cross-state rival Florida. The Seminoles have four seniors - Cole Anderson, Frederik Kjettrup, Gary Albright, and Brett Roberts. Sophomore Luke Clanton is a stud sophomore. 

It feels like if anyone is going to create some twists in the storylines this week on the men’s side, Florida State might be a good pick.

The Golf Channel will air the match play portion of the championship starting on May 27. We'll have daily updates every evening when play concludes at La Costa.

ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Championship

30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying team make up the field for the championship of NCAA Division I women's golf.

After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance to match play to determine the team champion.

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