After a brief absence from BuffaloGolfer.com, I am glad to say I am back. And just in time for the most crucial part of the golf season and, more importantly, the most exciting time in college golf. Today, the NCAA Championships will start at Rivera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., with more than the National Championship on the line. The front-runners for the Jack Nicklaus Award, top freshman, and Golfweek’s College Player of the Year Award are also up for grabs this week.
30 teams will be represented this week on a course that will most likely be set up in typical U.S. Open fashion. Texas’ Jordan Spieth and his team look to keep control of their No. 1 ranking all the way through to the championship, while SEC Freshman of the Year Justin Thomas will try and lead his Alabama Crimson Tide to the title come Sunday. This could be a shoot out between some of the top players and teams in the country.
With one of the most anticipated incoming classes of freshman to the college circuit, if you will, the boys didn’t disappoint. The Jack Nicklaus favorites and POY candidates are led by 2011 Walker Cuppers Spieth and Patrick Rodgers (Stanford), and Thomas, who have combined for nine wins this year. More POY contenders are upper classmen Chris Williams (Washington) and South African Dylan Frittelli (Texas) have a total of four wins.
To break it down even further, Rodgers, Thomas, and Williams all have individual wins, meaning they had no co-medalists with them in their two, four, and three wins, respectively. Although, Spieth has beaten Thomas head-to-head in recent competitions, Spieth has been ranked No. 1 on the Golfweek/Sagarin ranks for most of the year. But to add another stat to the mix; Thomas has a chance to sweep the post-season. He has already won the SEC Championship and the NCAA Southeast Regional.
Individual Champion… Spieth. Although Thomas’ game seems to be at the highest level possible, Spieth always comes out for the big show. Even though he has co-medal for two of his three wins this year, I don’t see him co-medaling anything at NCAA Championships. If he wins there, I believe he will also lock up the Jack Nicklaus Award and the College Player of the Year Award. I’m not handing these awards to Spieth though. It is hard for a freshman to accomplish all of these things in just their first year. I think it would be a long shot for Frittelli to win the POY; Williams is not. It just all depends where each of these players finish, if it’s not at the top. And if none of these players finish at the top, look for Eugene Wong of Oregon to make a move.
As for team play, nine of the top ten teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin ranks will be competing. First it will be 54-holes of stroke play competition and then match play will start on Friday with the top eight teams advancing. My picks to the top eight: Texas, Alabama, UCLA, California, Stanford, USC, Washington, and San Diego State. There are some big names in my top eight field, but there are no Augusta State’s gunning for the title this year. San Diego State may be the only non-big name that I have, but even they have gained national recognition. It seems Texas or Alabama would be the favorites to win this year’s NCAA Championship, but my gut is telling me California may be able to pull this one off. With the likes of freshman Michael Kim, sophomores Brandon Hagy and Joel Stalter, and Junior Max Homa and Pace Johnson, this team has the depth to win a National Championship in their home state. They are young, with no seniors in the line-up, but experience is key. As of late, they have played extremely well winning the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA Stanford Regional. They also won the Collegiate Match Play Championship in March, which is a warm up for NCAAs. And if they can’t get it done, Roll Tide.