The college golf season has been turned upside down due to the pandemic, but this week’s East Lake Cup, which will be broadcast on Golf Channel this Monday through Wednesday (3-6 p.m. ET), brings together a number of the top programs in the country as a distorted and compacted fall season winds to a close.
Here’s a quick primer for the event:
1. Who’s playing and what’s the format?
The three-day event at East Lake Golf Club (site of the Tour Championship) is played in a similar fashion to the NCAA Championships.
That means Monday’s opening round is stroke play and it will determine an individual male and female champion. Seeding for the following two days of match play is also decided from the opening round.
On the men’s side, Oklahoma, Pepperdine, Texas and Texas Tech will vie for the title while the women’s field consists of Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Texas.
Although this event is just a few years old, some big names have enjoyed success here, including Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, who won the stroke play event in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
2. Who’s the favorite on the women’s side?
That’s a tough one. We’ll give the edge to South Carolina, as sophomore Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, currently No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin women’s collegiate individual rankings, leads a deep side that rolled to a five-stroke victory at The Ally in Mississippi last week.
Roussin-Bouchard fired rounds of 66 and 65 in the final two days of that event as the Gamecocks leapfrogged Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss to take the crown.
Senior Lois Kaye Go (No. 27 in G/S) and sophomore Mathilde Claisse also shined at the Ally while Paula Kirner and grad student Pimnipa Panthong (No. 28 in G/S) could be due for a breakthrough.
Ole Miss is the first team outside the top 10 in the final rankings to play in the East Lake Cup (they were added to the field because of teams not playing this fall), but Kennedy Swan (No. 25) and Julia Johnson (No. 26) lead a solid side from Oxford.
Florida is counting on a big showing from sophomore Annabell Fuller, a highly-recruited player who went to Gainesville last spring with moderate success before the pandemic. She’s found her stride this fall, however, leading the Gators at Ally with a T-9 finish. Star Mari Escobar Domingo (No. 12 in G/S) opened the Ally with a 68, but lagged behind with a second-round 77. She’ll need to be more consistent for the Gators to have a chance to win.
And the jury is still out on the women’s team at Texas. Without Agathe Laisne and Sára Kousková (who opted out this season) the Longhorns have yet to sparkle, placing 10th out of 11 teams at the Schooner Fall Classic in Oklahoma. Texas did improve dramatically, placing second in its own event in Austin a few weeks later. Only Kaitlyn Papp (No. 4) ranks in the Golfweek/Sagarin top 40.
Oklahoma’s Quade Cummins hits a shot during the second round of stroke play at the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2) in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (USGA/Michael Reaves)
3. What’s the biggest story on the men’s side?
Changing rosters and returning “Covid seniors” (those given an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic) are the biggest storylines on the men’s side.
There have only been a handful of tournaments, so the sample size is limited, but the four schools in this event are all in the top 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin team rankings.
Oklahoma (No. 1 G/S team rankings) has a deep roster that can dominate match play. All-American Quade Cummins, Logan McAllister, grad transfer Jonathan Brightwell and freshman Ben Lorenz have all played well this fall. McAllister was the Big 12 September Golfer of the Month and has been hot of late — finishing inside the top 20 in his last four events, with a pair of wins.
You’d think with Sahith Theegala gone that Pepperdine might sag, but the Waves finished five strokes better than Oklahoma in last week’s Maridoe Collegiate Invitational. Dylan Menante has led the way thus far for coach Michael Beard’s squad with Joe Highsmith, William Mouw and Joey Vrzich also shining.
Of course, Cole Hammer is the name most associate with Texas (No. 3 team in G/S), but twins Parker and Pierceson Coody have been the ones leading the charge this year for the Longhorns. Hammer, who struggled in the fall’s opening tournament, found his mojo last week at Meridoe, finishing T-7. Don’t be surprised if he shines in Atlanta, as he’s used major stages to showcase his best work in the past.
And don’t sleep on Texas Tech (No. 6 in G/S team), although the team got some bad news when COVID contact tracing forced coach Greg Sands to juggle his lineup. That means reigning second-team All-American Sandy Scott and honorable mention Kyle Hogan won’t be in Atlanta. There’s still plenty of talent as Andy Lopez and Baard Skogen have both had solid showings this fall.