College golf is back, and it's starting to look more like its normal self again.
Just 65 Division I men's golf programs played in the fall, with most of the remaining teams not playing at all because of COVID-19 concerns. That is expected to change this spring, as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and a list of other conferences are planning to rejoin the likes of the SEC and Big 12 and resume play for the first time since the pandemic canceled last season in mid-March.
But while mostly everyone (sans the Ivy League until at least March, if at all) is back in the fold, things likely won't fully be back to normal this spring. COVID-19 hasn't gone anywhere.
"We’re not through this yet," one Big 12 coach said.
Case in point: Stanford tentatively won't have its golfers return to campus until mid-February because of new school restrictions amid rising cases in California. The Cardinal are hopeful to begin their season shortly following that return.
Meanwhile, the spring slate will begin a couple of weeks earlier for many teams looking to squeeze in more events to make up for not playing in the fall. NCAA title contender Arizona State will compete in nine regular-season events, including the Jan. 17-19 Copper Cup against Arizona. Florida State will host nine other ACC schools at Camp Creek on those same dates. There will be a new tournament at Donald Ross-designed Timuquana in Florida the week after.
Some notable spring events, such as the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico Classic, have been canceled, while the Cabo Collegiate will host its always stacked field for a one-off event at TPC San Antonio. Other top tournaments, such as the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii and Valspar Collegiate in Florida, will go on, just with slightly different fields.
A handful of teams are driving everywhere, while others are traveling by van and plane. Georgia Tech is planning on competing in Hawaii and California this spring and just returned from a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the NCAA Championships will be played this summer at Grayhawk. The Big Ten will have no travel restrictions, either. On the other end of the spectrum, teams from the SEC will only be able to play events within the conference's footprint until the postseason.
(Got all that? Good. Just remember: this is a fluid situation and could change at any moment.)
To get you prepared for the spring season in college golf, which begins this weekend, GolfChannel.com sought insight from dozens of coaches to rank the top 30 teams and players in the country, as well as provide conference breakdowns for the Power 5 conferences and a closer look at the best mid-majors.
1. Arizona State, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Pepperdine, 4. Texas, 5. Texas Tech, 6. Georgia, 7. Oklahoma State, 8. SMU, 9. Wake Forest, 10. Vanderbilt, 11. Baylor, 12. Arkansas, 13. Tennessee, 14. Florida, 15. Illinois, 16. Florida State, 17. Notre Dame, 18. Arizona, 19. Stanford, 20. Clemson, 21. Auburn, 22. UCLA, 23. Alabama, 24. Texas A&M, 25. Washington, 26. UAB, 27. Duke, 28. North Carolina, 29. Ohio State, 30. Colorado State
1. Davis Thompson, Sr., Georgia; 2. Austin Eckroat, Sr., Oklahoma State; 3. John Pak, Sr., Florida State; 4. Kevin Yu, Sr., Arizona State; 5. Quade Cummins, Sr., Oklahoma; 6. William Mouw, Soph., Pepperdine; 7. Ricky Castillo, Soph., Florida; 8. Pierceson Coody, Jr., Texas; 9. Sandy Scott, Sr., Texas Tech; 10. Ludvig Aberg, Soph., Texas Tech; 11. Cole Hammer, Jr., Texas; 12. Matthias Schmid, Sr., Louisville; 13. David Puig, Soph., Arizona State; 14. Alex Fitzpatrick, Jr., Wake Forest; 15. Garett Reband, Sr., Oklahoma; 16. Mark Power, Soph., Wake Forest; 17. Trent Phillips, Jr., Georgia; 18. Mac Meissner, Sr., SMU; 19. Karl Vilips, Fr., Stanford; 20. Cameron Sisk, Jr., Arizona State; 21. Michael Thorbjornsen, Fr., Stanford; 22. Cooper Dossey, Sr., Baylor; 23. Dylan Menante, Soph., Pepperdine; 24. Noah Goodwin, Sr., SMU; 25. Angus Flanagan, Sr., Minnesota; 26. William Moll, Soph., Vanderbilt; 27. Julian Perico, Jr., Arkansas; 28. Jonathan Brightwell, Sr., Oklahoma; 29. Yuxin Lin, Soph., Florida; 30. Travis Vick, Soph., Texas
Championship info: April 23-26, Capital City Club (Crabapple), Alpharetta, Ga.
Recent champions: Georgia Tech (2019), Georgia Tech (2018), Duke (2017), Clemson (2016), Georgia Tech (2015), Georgia Tech (2014)
Team power rankings: 1. Wake Forest, 2. Florida State, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Clemson, 5. Duke, 6. North Carolina, 7. Louisville, 8. Georgia Tech, 9. N.C. State, 10. Virginia, 11. Virginia Tech, 12. Boston College
Projected All-Conference: Player of the year – John Pak, Sr., Florida State. Others – Matthias Schmid, Sr., Louisville; Alex Fitzpatrick, Jr., Wake Forest; Mark Power, Soph., Wake Forest; Vincent Norrman, Sr., Florida State; Palmer Jackson, Soph., Notre Dame; Benjamin Shipp, Sr., N.C. State; Adrien Pendaries, Sr., Duke; Noah Norton, Sr., Georgia Tech; Turk Pettit, Jr., Clemson; Ryan Burnett, Soph., North Carolina
What to watch: Georgia Tech’s chances of a three-peat likely went out the window with the departures of two U.S. Amateur champs in Tyler Strafaci and Andy Ogletree, plus fellow senior Luke Schniederjans. Noah Norton will be counted on even more to lead an unproven Jackets team. … As for the rest of the conference, there are plenty of unknowns since the ACC was among the many conferences who did not play in the fall. It’s likely we get some initial answers at the Camp Creek Seminole Invitational on Jan. 17-19 in Watersound, Florida, where 10 ACC teams will open their seasons. … Wake Forest probably deserves the title of preseason favorite, mainly because of the Demon Deacons’ top two players, GB&I Walker Cuppers Alex Fitzpatrick and Mark Power. Fitzpatrick won an amateur event at Golf Club of Georgia during the winter break, beating lots of conference foes in the process, including John Pak. … Speaking of Pak, the Florida State senior has another legitimate running mate in transfer Vincent Norrman, who was the top-ranked played in D-II last season. His arrival is why the Seminoles will be a popular dark horse. … Remember Notre Dame’s fall in 2019? The Fighting Irish won four times. While some key players in that group have transferred, Palmer Jackson and Davis Chatfield top a roster that continues to strengthen. … There’s really no drop-off as you continue through the rest of the conference’s top teams. Clemson looks poised for a bounce back behind the resurgent Turk Pettit. North Carolina adds some intriguing newcomers, including Peter Fountain, to a mix that features Ryan Burnett, Austin Hitt and Ryan Gerard. Duke also has some strong freshmen in Jimmy Zheng and Ian Siebers, which is huge considering returning All-American Evan Katz doesn’t appear to be the same player right now as he was last season. … Louisville’s Matthias Schmid is really, really good, evidenced by his No. 15 WAGR ranking and European Amateur victory last fall.
Championship info: April 26-28, Prairie Dunes Country Club, Hutchinson, Kan.
Recent champions: Oklahoma State (2019), Oklahoma (2018), Texas (2017), Texas (2016), Texas (2015), Texas (2014)
Team power rankings: 1. Oklahoma, 2. Texas, 3. Texas Tech, 4. Oklahoma State, 5. Baylor, 6. Kansas, 7. TCU, 8. West Virginia, 9. Iowa State, 10. Kansas State
Projected All-Conference: Player of the year – Austin Eckroat, Sr., Oklahoma State. Others – Quade Cummins, Sr., Oklahoma; Pierceson Coody, Jr., Texas; Sandy Scott, Sr., Texas Tech; Ludvig Aberg, Soph., Texas Tech; Cole Hammer, Jr., Texas; Garett Reband, Sr., Oklahoma; Cooper Dossey, Sr., Baylor; Jonathan Brightwell, Sr., Oklahoma; Travis Vick, Soph., Texas; Parker Coody, Jr., Texas; Ryan Grider, Sr., Baylor
What to watch: Don’t put much stock in the current Golfstat rankings, as the Big 12, with no team ranked better than 14th entering the spring, has five national-championship-caliber programs this season. Indeed, the gap between No. 1 in No. 5 is very small. Oklahoma figures to have the edge right now with arguably the most experienced squad in the league. Three reigning All-Americans, including first-teamers Quade Cummins and Garett Reband and second-teamer Jonathan Brightwell, are all five-plus-year players, plus junior Logan McAllister stepped up with a fall-opening individual win at Colonial. The Sooners also won at Colonial while not finishing worse than third in four events. More impressive is they did that without Reband, who was still recovering from a broken right hand, for much of the fall. … Texas was runner-up to Oklahoma at Colonial but didn’t finish better than third the rest of the fall. That likely changes this spring as junior Cole Hammer, fresh off a win at the South Beach Amateur, looks to be returning to player-of-the-year-type form. The battle for the fifth spot should be fun to watch, too. … Texas Tech probably has the deepest team in the conference, though the Red Raiders still need to find some consistency behind studs Sandy Scott and Ludvig Aberg. Luckily, there are several potential candidates. Garrett Martin (101) was the team's best-ranked player in the fall. Kyle Hogan made just one starting lineup in the fall, though he turned it into a win at Maridoe. Also on the radar: Scott was dealing with a wrist/hand issue late last year, but Texas Tech believes he’ll be ready to go this spring. … Oklahoma State’s win at Maridoe proves that the Cowboys, led by Austin Eckroat, are back. … Baylor went 5-0 in winning the Big 12 Match Play, yet the Bears also were fourth in both stroke-play events. First-team All-American Cooper Dossey didn’t notch a top-10 in the fall, but he wasn’t far off, and the emergence of Ryan Grider in the fall will have Baylor feeling confident entering the spring.
Championship info: April 30-May 2, Crooked Stick Golf Club, Carmel, Ind.
Recent champions: Illinois (2019), Illinois (2018), Illinois (2017), Illinois (2016), Illinois (2015), Minnesota (2014)
Team power rankings: 1. Illinois, 2. Ohio State, 3. Northwestern, 4. Iowa, 5. Minnesota, 6. Rutgers, 7. Michigan State, 8. Purdue, 9. Indiana, 10. Penn State, 11. Michigan, 12. Maryland, 13. Nebraska, 14. Wisconsin
Projected All-Conference: Player of the year – Angus Flanagan, Sr., Minnesota. Others – Christopher Gotterup, Sr., Rutgers; Michael Feagles, Sr., Illinois; Alex Schaake, Sr., Iowa; David Nyfjall, Jr., Northwestern; Maxwell Moldovan, Fr., Ohio State; James Piot, Sr., Michigan State; Tommy Kuhl, Jr, Illinois; Elis Svard, Sr., Ohio State; Clay Merchent, Fr., Indiana; Peter Knade, Sr., Maryland; Adrien Dumont de Chassart, Jr., Illinois
What to watch: Death, taxes and Illinois winning the Big Ten. Again, the Illini are the favorites in the conference, even in a season that was postponed until the spring. Without any fall action, Illinois head coach Mike Small doesn’t know exactly what he has in his squad, but he does know that any of his top six or seven players could lead the team this season. Likely, that will be extra-year senior Michael Feagles, who is a four-time All-Big Ten first-teamer. … Northwestern and Iowa are more seasoned teams, led by first-team all-conference players David Nyfjall and Alex Schaake, respectively. But don’t count out Ohio State, which will be much improved after adding AJGA Player of the Year Maxwell Moldovan and reigning D-II first-team All-American Elis Svard. … After that are teams with potential Big Ten players of the year: Minnesota, led by potential GB&I Walker Cupper Angus Flanagan, who is the Big Ten’s highest ranked player in the WAGR at No. 38, and Rutgers, whose Christopher Gotterup is in the running for a PGA Tour U spot.
Championship info: April 26-28, Mayacama Golf Club, Santa Rose, California
Recent champions: Stanford (2019), USC (2018), Oregon (2017), Stanford (2016), Stanford (2015), Stanford (2014)
Team power rankings: 1. Arizona State, 2. Arizona, 3. Stanford, 4. UCLA, 5. Washington, 6. USC, 7. Oregon State, 8. Cal, 9. Oregon, 10. Colorado, 11. Utah, 12. Washington State
Projected All-Conference: Player of the year – Kevin Yu, Sr., Arizona State. Others – David Puig, Soph., Arizona State; Karl Vilips, Fr., Stanford; Cameron Sisk, Jr., Arizona State; Michael Thorbjornsen, Fr., Stanford; Trevor Werbylo, Sr., Arizona; Devon Bling, Sr., UCLA; Noah Woosley, Sr., Washington; Spencer Tibbits, Sr., Oregon State; Eddy Lai, Sr., UCLA; David Laskin, Sr., Arizona; Leon D’Souza, Sr., USC
What to watch: Even no fall golf in the Pac-12 couldn’t change the fact that Arizona State is far and away the team to beat in this conference. One could make the argument that the Sun Devils, who will host the NCAA Championship in late May, have the three best players in the conference in Kevin Yu, Cameron Sisk and David Puig, who are all ranked No. 32 or better in the WAGR. Arizona State has just one Pac-12 title in the last 20 years (2008). … After losing talented duo Brandon Wu and Isaiah Salinda after its 2019 NCAA final win, Stanford welcomes another dynamic pair in Karl Vilips and Michael Thorbjornsen. There’s depth behind them, too, with sophomore Barclay Brown and senior Henry Shimp. The big concern is the Cardinal potentially being behind the eight-ball with their players prohibited from campus until next month while other teams are already beginning practice and qualifying. … While we’re on the topic of one-two punches, Arizona will be in the conversation thanks to seniors Trevor Werbylo and David Laskin. The Wildcats could be one of the most experienced teams in the country with potentially five seniors in the starting lineup. … UCLA is poised to take a big jump this season with a healthier Devon Bling and the continued rise of Eddy Lai. Wake transfer Kengo Aoshima is an interesting piece, too. … Don’t forget about Washington, which won four times last season and returns most of that squad. … USC still has some talent left after the transfer of Yuxin Lin, notably Leon D’Souza and Kaito Onishi, but new coach J.T. Higgins will still have some work to do. … Cal would likely be a spot or two higher had senior Kaiwen Lui not opted out of this season.
Championship info: April 21-25, Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside), St. Simons Island, Georgia
Recent champions: Arkansas (2019), Auburn (2018), Vanderbilt (2017), Georgia (2016), LSU (2015), Alabama (2014)
Team power rankings: 1. Georgia, 2. Vanderbilt, 3. Arkansas, 4. Tennessee, 5. Florida, 6. Auburn, 7. Alabama, 8. Texas A&M, 9. South Carolina, 10. Ole Miss, 11. Mississippi State, 12. LSU, 13. Kentucky, 14. Missouri
Projected All-Conference: Player of the year – Davis Thompson, Sr., Georgia. Others – Ricky Castillo, Soph., Florida; Trent Phillips, Jr., Georgia; William Moll, Soph., Vanderbilt; Julian Perico, Jr., Arkansas; Yuxin Lin, Soph., Florida; Hunter Wolcott, Sr., Tennessee; Jackson Suber, Soph., Ole Miss; Wilson Furr, Sr., Alabama; Joe Pagdin, Fr., Florida; Graysen Huff, Sr., Auburn; Thomas Ponder, Jr., Alabama
What to watch: By the time the SEC Championship rolls around, these teams will have seen a lot of each other. After three SEC-only events in the fall, the spring will feature every SEC school playing within the conference’s footprint. Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State will all host events before the teams converge on Sea Island in April. Of course, by then, these power rankings could have completely shifted; that’s how deep this conference is just a couple of years after getting all 14 teams into regionals. … Vanderbilt, which won twice in three tries last fall, likely would’ve been the SEC favorite coming into the spring, but then first-team All-American John Augenstein decided to turn pro. The Commodores will still be good, however, especially with the emergence of sophomores William Moll and Matthew Riedel. … Augenstein’s departure doesn’t just open the door for Georgia’s Davis Thompson to be the clear Player of the Year favorite in the SEC, it also makes the Bulldogs the team to beat. Thompson and junior Trent Phillips are one of the best one-two punches in all of college golf, and senior Spencer Ralston closed the fall solidly after struggling last summer. After an 11th-place finish at Blessings, Georgia went second, T-1 to close the fall and enters the spring with momentum. … After Georgia and Vanderbilt, things really get competitive. One could argue the SEC has as many as double-digit teams capable of winning at Sea Island. That includes the defending champion, Arkansas, which has enjoyed the breakout of junior Julian Perico and returns William Buhl to the fold this spring. … Tennessee’s upward trend continued in the fall as the Vols didn’t finish worse than fourth. Depth will keep them in every tournament, potential big showing by Hunter Wolcott will win them some. … Florida gets bumped up a few spots thanks to the midseason arrival of USC transfer and All-American Yuxin Lin. At their best, Florida’s top three of Lin, Ricky Castillo and Joe Pagdin are as good as anyone. … Auburn made up for two 10th-place finishes with a T-1 to close the fall. The Tigers, led by Graysen Huff and Jovan Rebula, are much closer to that T-1 team. … Alabama is another team that looked really good (win at Blessings) and not so good (12th at home event), but if sophomore Canon Claycomb can turn things around, the Tide will have a chance. … Texas A&M has been in the mix frequently in recent years, both at the conference and national levels. But after the departure of head coach J.T. Higgins, it was an average fall for the Aggies, who didn’t get Walker Lee’s best stuff and were inconsistent in three starts. Good news is the depth and talent are there. … South Carolina’s Caleb Proveaux and Ryan Hall need some help if the Gamecocks are to contend this April.
Team power rankings: 1. Pepperdine (West Coast), 2. SMU (American), 3. UAB (C-USA), 4. Colorado State (Mountain West), 5. Arkansas State (Sun Belt), 6. East Tennessee State (SoCon), 7. South Florida (American), 8. Liberty (A-Sun), 9. San Francisco (West Coast), 10. Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun), 11. Georgia Southern (Sun Belt), 12. North Florida (A-Sun)
Individual power rankings: 1. William Mouw, Soph., Pepperdine; 2. Mac Meissner, Sr., SMU; 3. Dylan Menante, Soph., Pepperdine, 4. Noah Goodwin, Sr., SMU; 5. Frankie Capan, Soph., Florida Gulf Coast; 6. David Perkins, Sr., Illinois State; 7. Tim Widing, Sr., San Francisco; 8. Jack Trent, Sr., UNLV; 9. Joe Highsmith, Jr., Pepperdine; 10. Julien Sale, Sr., Arkansas State; 11. Will Holcomb, Sr., Sam Houston State; 12. Jonathan Yaun, Soph., Liberty
What to watch: Pepperdine again solidified itself as one of the country’s best teams with three wins and a runner-up at Maridoe last fall. That was also with first-team All-American William Mouw ranking fifth on the team in scoring average. Dylan Menante stepped up as an All-America-type player while Josh McCarthy, despite only making two lineups, won both West Coast Conference events. There’s a lot of talent on this team. … SMU is another NCAA title hopeful. The Mustangs didn’t compete in the fall but do have a stellar one-two punch in Mac Meissner and Noah Goodwin to go along with U.S. Amateur runner-up Ollie Osborne. … UAB won three times in the fall, though should be tested more this spring. … Colorado State was a top-20 program before last season was canceled, and the Rams, led by A.J. Ott, return most of the squad this spring. … Julien Sale averaged 69.0 in six fall rounds as Arkansas State went first-second in its two fall starts. … East Tennessee State was tested in a 10th-place finish at Maridoe in the fall, but the Bucs have the depth to improve this spring. … South Florida should have its best team in recent years behind Albin Bergstrom and some talented arrivals. … Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida will all battled for an Atlantic-Sun title. Liberty is likely the early favorite behind Jonathan Yaun while Florida Gulf Coast has the most upside thanks to transfers Frankie Capan and Van Holmgren. North Florida is always solid, and Auburn transfer Branden Mancheno could be a huge boost if he figures out his game.
May 16-19: UNM Championship Course, Albuquerque, New Mexico
May 16-19: Golf Club of Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee
May 16-19: Karsten Creek Golf Club, Stillwater, Oklahoma
May 16-19: Tumble Creek Golf Club, Cle Elum, Washington
May 16-19: Sagamore Golf Club, Noblesville, Indiana
May 16-19: Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club, Tallahassee, Florida
May 28-June 2: Grayhawk Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona