UCLA hasn’t competed as a team for 10 months. And just as team qualifying was nearly complete for an initial spring start at next week’s Southwestern Invitational, the Bruins had to slam the breaks because of COVID.
The team announced through Twitter on Wednesday that it wouldn’t travel across town to tee it up in the spring-opening event.
“When we brought everyone back, we knew that just because of how contagious COVID is, there could be a chance that some guys could be exposed,” head coach Derek Freeman said of the team’s Dec. 27 return to campus after not being together all fall. “They had done such a good job at home, no one had been exposed and then when we got here we were great for 10-12 days. We don’t really know how someone on the team got it, and it spread around with some of our players. I think just with contact tracing and being smart and diligent and not trying to spread this to anyone else or someone at the tournament, it just made the best decision to not play at this time.
“It’s unfortunate. Our players are super disappointed because we didn’t play in the fall and this was our chance to get out there and get going. They’re disappointed, but they also understand there’s a bigger picture and a bigger responsibility for our team to the overall health of everyone around us.”
I feel for our players not being able to play. We look forward to competing in the near future when it is safe to do so. pic.twitter.com/u55YjXDFr6
— Derek Freeman (@Coachdfreeman) January 20, 2021
Alas, UCLA’s long offseason goes on a little longer. The now 11-team Southwestern Invitational will still kick off the spring at North Ranch Golf Club in Westlake Village, California, for a number of West Coast teams on Jan. 25-27. It will be televised on Golf Channel, a perk that Freeman hates to see go by the wayside. Any college golf on TV, he says, is a success.
“There’s a disappointment when there’s so few of those that are out there and when you’re part of one, you want to showcase that,” he said. “You want to showcase your ability as a team and the greatness of your university. That is disappointing and our players understand that.”
Expect to see UCLA start its season at the Prestige at PGA West on Feb. 15-17. Past that, a full schedule will play out predominantly in California but with trips to Arizona and Oregon, too. Air travel will figure in, but minimally.
While the spring college golf season is back – technically – UCLA likely won’t be the last team to experience a setback.
“I think it’s part of the way this year is going to go,” Freeman said. “We’re maybe the first one that’s having to do this this spring but I think there will be a lot of moving parts and a lot of teams that have to kind of move and jockey and change things to make sure their tournaments are held in the right way and they’re able to compete. I think that’s going to happen and I think it’s just part of this year and where we are and what’s going to take place.”
On the second playoff hole, we emerged 𝙫𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙨 at the Camp Creek Seminole Invitational!
We're bringing home the hardware! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/8yJw0G7o8V
— FSU Golf (@FSUGolf) January 20, 2021
Let last season’s (abbreviated) rankings show that when college golf shut down, six ACC teams were lodged in the top 20. Outside of a few lost heavy-hitters on the Georgia Tech roster – namely the last two U.S. Amateur champs, Andy Ogletree and Tyler Strafaci – the league remained largely intact.
Florida State’s roster only built, drawing in Brett Roberts, a freshman from Coral Springs, Florida; senior Connor Futrell, a Tallahassee native who had made big strides in three years at Troy University; and Vincent Norrman, a graduate transfer who ended a four-year career at Georgia Southwestern with seven career victories and was last year’s top-ranked Division II player.
“We liked our team but you don’t know until you see them play and get on the road,” Florida State head coach Trey Jones said. “We really are excited about this and think we’re going to get better as the spring goes on.”
Having lost the whole fall season, the ACC logged an early, inter-conference start this week with the FSU-hosted Camp Creek Intercollegiate. Jones secured the venue, a Tom Fazio design 125 miles west of Tallahassee where he’s a member. Traditionally, Camp Creek has been a welcome late-spring getaway for the Seminoles when most courses near campus start to aerate. After this week’s inaugural event, Camp Creek will become an annual venue.
Florida State got big performances from Futrell at 7 under plus Norrman and returner John Pak at 4 under. The Seminoles’ 54-hole team total of 22 under left them tied with Wake Forest, who they beat in a two-hole playoff for the team title.
Florida State’s lineup is littered with intriguing storylines, starting with Pak. The returning All-America, who has seven college titles, is on the cusp of a repeat Walker Cup performance – the first round of picks, based off the World Amateur Golf Ranking, comes next month. At No. 7 (the third-highest American) Pak would get one if he can maintain his position.
Norrman and Roberts have only gotten started. Senior Jamie Li, a returning All-American, didn’t even make the Camp Creek lineup because of an injury.
“I’ll think you’ll see the lineup change a little bit,” Jones said of this deep team.
Florida State has also greatly benefited from a renovated golf course and practice facility, Seminole Legacy Golf Club, that re-opened last year after a comprehensive renovation of its golf facilities. Jones will host an NCAA Regional there in May.
“That golf course really is going to prepare our team for everything,” Jones told Golfweek in October.
Postseason host duties punctuate a largely regional spring schedule. The farthest west Florida State will travel is to the Cabo TPC San Antonio in Texas. That tournament normally is played in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which is where Jones likes his team to get a taste of desert golf.
The national championship will be played at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Florida State won’t land anywhere near that far west in the regular season. Jones’ viewpoint on that?
“Obviously desert golf is different form the eye and you do need to get used to that. But Going to Arizona right now and playing a golf course versus how it’s going to be the first week of June, it’s going to be completely different. Different grasses, different everything.”
1️⃣8️⃣ days. Not that we’re counting!
— Illinois M Golf (@IlliniMGolf) January 19, 2021
In Jones’ mind, the January Camp Creek start helped make up lost opportunities from the fall. Farther north, in Big Ten country, that’s even harder to do. Many teams will head south mid-February to start the season.
Big Ten men’s teams traditionally start the season with a conference grudge match, must like what the ACC did this week. Except Big Ten teams go toe-to-toe in match play. That event will be played Feb. 5-6 at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida.
Even without team competition, it’s not like players haven’t done anything since March. That rings true on many rosters and especially for Illinois.
“With no team golf in the fall, our guys still stayed active by individually practicing on campus and by traveling to individual competitions on their own,” Illinois head coach Mike Small told Golfweek. “Having that ability, was a saving grace for them. They all want to compete badly, and with the spring season looking like it will be starting on time, their excitement level is off the charts! College golf is returning, and we are all fired up!”
Lance Ringler contributed reporting.
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