College Golf: 2018 Men's Conference Championship Preview

Now the fun begins.

Conference tournaments for golf are completely different than other collegiate sports. Regular season performance does not matter like it does in football. Beating a team for one 40 minute stretch does not matter like it does in basketball.

For a golf team to win the conference tournament, every member has to play well for multiple rounds. Every hole matters. This makes it very difficult for a Cinderella story to emerge as we see in the March tournament. The best teams are more consistent, and the cream rises to the top.

Here is a breakdown of the power five conferences, as well as some information on how to follow other conference tournaments. If you’re in the area, I would highly encourage you to check out one of these events. They are cheap (often free), played on great golf courses, and are great opportunities for kids to attend.

ACC

Dates: April 20-21, 2018
Course: Old North State Club; New London, N.C.
Format: 3 rounds of stroke play
Defending Champion: Duke

While mainly known for being a basketball conference, the ACC boasts a ton of great golf teams this season. There are 8 teams in the top 50, a recipe for a fantastic conference tournament.

Topping those in the top 50 are the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. With only one upperclassman in their starting five, Ga. Tech has been a pleasant surprise this season. They have 3 wins on the season and have not finished worse than 5th. Senior Chris Petefish has the team’s only individual victory, showing how consistent the team has been as a whole.

Clemson and Florida State have also put together solid seasons thus far. Each features a player who played in the Masters this month (Doc Redman and Harry Ellis). Florida State has been the better team throughout the year, but Clemson has won two tournaments this spring.

 Clemson's reigning U.S. Amateur Champion, Doc Redman

Clemson's reigning U.S. Amateur Champion, Doc Redman

We can’t forget about Duke, North Carolina, or Wake Forest either. Each team possesses the fire power needed to win a tournament. Wake Forest has been a great surprise this spring as they have continued to be competitive after losing Will Zalatoris to the professional ranks.

Prediction: The last 10 years of ACC golf have been dominated by Duke and Georgia Tech. While I fully expect them to be in the mix, I don’t think either will be victorious. There are too many good teams in the ACC this season. In the end, I think the UNC Tar Heels will find themselves on top. Their recent play has been their strongest of the season with finishes of 2nd, 4th, 2nd, and 1st in their last four events. I foresee UNC playing with a heightened focus as they attempt to win the ACC Championship for the first time in over a decade.

Big 10

Dates: April 27-29, 2018
Course: Baltimore Country Club; Baltimore, MD
Format: 3 rounds of stroke play
Defending Champion: Illinois

When thinking about Big 10 golf, we obviously have to start with Illinois. The Illini started the season in lackluster fashion with a lot of their lineup being made up of underclassmen. In recent memory, Illinois has won their last two events and are starting to hit their stride. Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer continue to be two of the best players in college golf, but the rest of their team has picked up their play. Sophomore Brian Baumgarten has been a great player this spring, notching a win and two other top 11 finishes.

 Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy

Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy

Outside of Illinois, the rest of the Big 10 is suspect at best. Purdue and Northwestern have had their moments, but neither has been able to experience continued success. Michigan has not been great as a team, but Kyle Mueller has played phenomenally this season. The senior has finished in the top 12 of every stroke play event this season including two wins.

A surprise has been Penn State, who have won two tournaments this season. Cole Miller has been Penn State’s best player, finishing no worse than 15th in his last 7 events.

Prediction: Mike Small took the head coaching job at Illinois in 2000. By 2007, he had turned the program into a national powerhouse. 8 of the last 10 Big Ten titles have gone to Illinois...expect that trend to continue this season. Led by Hardy and Meyer, the Illini should run away with the tournament.

Another angle to the Big 10 tournament is Baltimore Country Club. Originally designed by A.W Tillinghast, Keith Foster renovated the East Course in 2015 and brought back one of the best courses in Maryland. If you’re in the area, definitely head over and check out the tournament.

Big 12

Dates: April 23-25, 2018
Course: Southern Hills Country Club; Tulsa, OK
Format: 4 rounds of stroke play
Defending Champion: Texas

In technical terms, the Big 12 is freakin’ nuts. There are a ton of great players and teams that will be descending on the hallowed grounds of Southern Hills. Let’s break it down.

While there are many great teams, we have to start with Oklahoma State. For all my fellow visual learners, these were the Cowboys finishes this year: 1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 4th. That is...extraordinary. They have 9 players who have finished in the top 4 of a tournament and have two players that are semifinals for the Haskins Award, awarded to the best collegiate golfer. They will be the hands-down favorite heading into the Big 12 tournament.

 The Oklahoma State golf team.

The Oklahoma State golf team.

A handful of other teams will be looking to chase down Oklahoma State next week.

The defending NCAA Champion Oklahoma Sooners have won three tournaments this season, two this spring. Brad Dalke and Grant Hirschman have led the way, but the Sooners have four players overall with sub-72 scoring averages.

Other teams looking to make a charge include Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU. Texas and Baylor have the best chances of the group given the depth of their rosters. The Longhorns, led by Walker Cuppers Doug Ghim and Scottie Scheffler, have not lived up to their full potential but still possess the firepower needed to compete. Baylor has been more impressive, notching a win and 5 other top 3 finishes. Fredrik Nilehn (Texas Tech) and Stefano Mazzoli (TCU) will also figure into the individual side of the competition. Both of them have put together fantastic seasons, earning Haskins Award semifinalist nominations.

Prediction: As long as Oklahoma State doesn’t get lost on the way to the course, I think they’ll win. Even with the amount of talent chasing, they have too much depth to lose. Expect OSU to march their way to the NCAA Championship.

Pac 12

Dates: April 23-25, 2018
Course: Rolling Hills Country Club; Los Angeles, CA
Format: 3 rounds of stroke play
Defending Champion: Oregon

The 2018 PAC 12 has a completely different makeup from the 2017 season. Last season featured USC and Oregon as the heavy favorites with other teams like Stanford and Cal nipping at their heels. After losing some of their best players, USC, Stanford and Oregon have fallen off slightly while Cal developed into a very stout team. All of them will head to the recently David McLay Kidd renovated Rolling Hills Country Club.

Cal already has 3 wins, and 3 runner-up finishes this season. Junior Collin Morikawa has proven himself to be one of the best players in the country while Sebastian Crampton, Kaiwen Liu, and KK Limbhasut have been a great supporting cast. They haven’t been as dominant as Oklahoma State, but they have proven themselves to be one of the best in the country.

Similar to the Big 12, the PAC 12 features a group of teams that will try to chase down the favorite. Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford all have incredibly solid teams this season. The Ducks lost the most with the departures of Wyndham Clark and Sulman Raza, but other teams have suffered as well. Stanford lost Maverick McNealy, and USC lost Rico Hoey, both of played as the team’s #1 player.

Oregon and USC have had new players emerge as their leaders; Norman Xiong and Justin Suh. Xiong had a fantastic freshman year in 2017 and has continued his strong play in 2018. Suh won 4 times this season as well, even though his team may not have had as much success as they would like.

Prediction: To me, the individual competition will be the most intriguing part of the PAC 12 tournament. Norman Xiong, Collin Morikawa, and Justin Suh might be the best three collegiate players this season. Stanford’s Brandon Wu has had a great season of his own, amassing a 70.4 scoring average. Still, I think Morikawa possesses a gear that very few collegiate players have. If he gets hot, he could run away with the title and lead Cal to a team victory as well.

SEC

Dates: April 25-29, 2018
Course: Sea Island Golf Club; St. Simons Island, GA
Format: 3 rounds of stroke play, cut to top 8 teams for match play.
Defending Champion: Vanderbilt

Remarkably, six of the top 11 teams in the Sagarin team rankings play in the SEC. They are Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and LSU. Furthermore, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Missouri, and Tennessee are also top 50 teams. Got all that?

I could sit here and dig into each one of them, but instead, we are going to focus on the format of the SEC tournament.

Instead of just being a boring stroke play event, the SEC Championship cuts to the top 8 teams after 54 holes, and they play match play to decide the winner. This resembles another big college golf tournament, the NCAA Championship.

With the number of great golfers in the conference, it makes sense that the conference would want their best teams prepared for the grand-daddy of them all. The SEC Championship changed its format last year, infusing both intrigue and preparation into its tournament. It is the only tournament of the power 5 that is organized in this way. Players are put through the exact system that they will face if they make it to the big dance, the perfect way to prepare.

 Vanderbilt's Theo Humphrey

Vanderbilt's Theo Humphrey

Prediction: 12 of the 14 SEC teams have won tournaments this season so we should not be surprised at any outcome. Still, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Alabama will enter as the favorites of this event. All possess the All-American talent and have shown the ability to take over a golf tournament. In early March I said that Vanderbilt would win the SEC and I am sticking to them. Led by Will Gordon and Theo Humphrey, the Commodores have proven to be a real threat this season. They have match play experience this season too as they won the East Lake Cup back in November.

Regardless of who wins the team portion, pay attention to the winner of the individual portion. The last 11 individual SEC champions include Justin Thomas, Russell Henley, Billy Horschel, Patton Kizzire, Bobby Wyatt, and Lee McCoy. This year’s champion may do big things in the future.


If you are a fan of a team that is NOT in one of the power 5 conferences, take a look below to see where and when they will be playing. A few mid-majors sneak into the NCAA championship every year!

AAC

Dates: April 22-24, 2018
Course: Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort
Defending Champion: USF

Big Sky Conference

Dates: April 27-29, 2018
Course: Boulder Creek Golf Course; Boulder City, NV

Big South Conference

Dates: April 20-22, 2018
Course: The Patriot Golf Club; Ninety Six, SC

Big East

Dates: April 29-May 1, 2018
Course Callawassie Island; Okatie, SC

Colonial Athletic Association

Dates: April 20-22, 2018
Course: Lonnie Poole Golf Course; Raleigh, NC

Ivy League

Dates: April 20-22, 2018
Course: Stonewall Golf Club; Elverson, PA

Horizon League

Dates: April 22-24, 2018
Course: Mission Inn Resort; Howey-in-the-Hills, FL

Mid-American Conference

Dates: April 27-29, 2018
Course: Sycamore Hills Country Club; Fort Wayne, IN

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Dates: April 19-21, 2018
Course: Crosswinds Golf Club; Savannah, GA

Missouri Valley Conference

Dates: April 23-24, 2018
Course: Dalhousie Golf Club; Cape Girardeau, MO

Mountain West

Dates: April 20-22, 2018
Course: Gold Mountain Golf Club; Bremerton, WA

Northeast Conference

Dates: April 27-29, 2018
Course: LPGA International; Daytona Beach, FL

Ohio Valley Conference

Dates: April 23-25, 2018
Course: The Shoals at RTJ Trail; Muscle Shores, AL

Patriot League

Dates: April 28-29, 2018
Course: Saucon Valley Country Club; Bethlehem, PA

Southern Conference

Dates: April 22-24, 2018
Course: Pinehurst No. 9; Pinehurst, NC

Southland Conference

Dates: April 23-25, 2018
Course: Stonebridge Ranch Country Club; McKinney, Texas

Sunbelt Conference

Dates: April 22-25, 2018
Course: The Raven Golf Club; Sandestin, FL

Southwestern Athletic Conference *Completed*

Dates: April 16-18, 2018
Course: Oak Wing Golf Club; Alexandria, LA
Team Champion: Prairie View A&M (+27)
Ind. Champion: Lawrence Crea (PV A&M)

West Coast Conference *Completed*

Dates: April 16-18, 2018
Course: Carlton Oaks Country Club; Santee, CA
Team Champion: Pepperdine (-26)
Ind. Champion: Clay Feagler (Pepperdine)