NCAA season preview: Preseason top 30 women’s individuals
With the 2020-21 men’s and women’s college golf seasons about to begin, GolfChannel.com provides you with everything you need to know about the top teams and players in the country. Below is a breakdown of the preseason top 30 women’s individuals:
It’s not often a reigning Annika Award winner who won six times, including the NCAA individual title, is not even the most talked about player on her team entering the new season.
The again, it’s not often that a recruit of Rose Zhang’s caliber arrives on a college campus.
Don’t get us wrong, Rachel Heck is very talented, but her Stanford teammate enters school as not only the top-ranked player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, one spot ahead of Heck, but also after making history this summer by becoming the first player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior in that order. Zhang’s U.S. Girls’ Junior win over Bailey Davis in July came a year after she took down Gabi Ruffels in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Zhang, a two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year, has already teed it up in six LPGA majors, making four cuts and tying for 11th at last year’s ANA Inspiration.
“It’s gotta be Rose, right?” said one coach when contemplating who’s the Annika Award favorite for the upcoming season.
So, what makes Zhang so good?
“It’s her humility,” Stanford head coach Anne Walker said. “She’s so incredibly humble. I never talk to that kid where she doesn’t talk about something she learned, or something she could be better at, and not in a contrived sort of way; it’s very genuine. I have not been around a player who loves the process as much as that kid. And it doesn’t mean that she’s not competitive – she’s darn-well competitive as they come, obviously – but she truly loves the grind, and that’s unusual for that age.”
Walker said she talked with Zhang over the phone recently, and she relayed that Zhang is beyond excited to get to campus, even asking questions about what she should bring to decorate her dorm room.
“She just can’t wait to be immersed and be a normal kid,” Walker said.
Of course, Zhang is anything but normal on the golf course. She’s a generational talent, arguably the best women’s recruit in decades, and that’s why she’s GolfChannel.com’s top-ranked player to start the fall.
Here is a look at the top 30 women’s individuals in the country as we enter another season:
1. Rose Zhang, Fr., Stanford: Zhang is a superstar. She is already No. 255 in the Rolex Rankings, and earlier this year she was runner-up in a Symetra Tour event. She also is dominant against her peers, winning five of the past six AJGA invitationals she teed it up in. The expectations are sky high, but it’s hard to see Zhang not contending in every event this season.
2. Rachel Heck, Soph., Stanford: It’s hard not to love Heck. She is proven winner on the course – six wins, including a postseason sweep, as a freshman – and she’s well-rounded off of it – she’s involved in Air Force ROTC and just started her own art page on Instagram. Plus, she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Think of her more as the 1B to Zhang’s 1A.
3. Ingrid Lindblad, Jr., LSU: Lindblad may be quiet, but her game is anything but. Her swing is more powerful than fluid, but she hits a long, high ball that separates her from most all of her peers. Her stats through two years in Baton Rouge speak for themselves – four wins, 11 top-5s, 70.56 scoring average – and she won the prestigious European Ladies Amateur this summer. It’s hard to find a player who practices harder and also carries a 4-iron.
4. Emma Spitz, Jr., UCLA: Spitz notched six top-3 finishes last spring, including a regional title and NCAA runner-up. She also won the Austrian Women’s Stroke Play this summer. She’ll likely get overshadowed even in her own conference, but she’s got the game to win awards.
5. Linn Grant, Jr., Arizona State: The smooth-swinging Swede won four individual titles to open her spring, though she fell just short of a top-25 finish at nationals. She’ll play this fall, but after that she’s likely going pro as she’s exempt into Stage II of LPGA Q-School.
6. Beatrice Wallin, Jr., Florida State: Like Grant, Wallin is exempt into Stage II, but unlike Grant, the Seminoles star hasn’t made up her mind yet. She was often overlooked by her fellow Swedes the last two years, but there aren’t many more complete players. She had seven top-10s, including two wins, last season, and this summer she was fourth at the European Ladies.
7. Gina Kim, Sr., Duke: Kim has been a rock for the Blue Devils since helping them win an NCAA title as a freshman. She’s the reigning ACC individual champion and has two big amateur wins in the past year, at the Harder Hall and Women’s North and South. She’s trying for LPGA status in Q-School – and she just medaled at Stage I – but expect her to take one last crack at a second NCAA team title.
8. Vivian Hou, Jr., Arizona: The younger Hou sister was late getting to campus last spring and then played through a torn left labrum in her hip. She took some time off this summer before returning to finish runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She had six top-4 finishes as a freshman before the season was cut short by the pandemic, and it’s likely we’ll see that level of play this fall. She’s into Stage II, so that’s something to monitor.
9. Angelina Ye, Jr., Stanford: The former U.S. Girls’ Junior champion didn’t finish worse than T-11 in seven starts last season, and she notched top-3s at regionals and nationals. It’s pretty scary to think that she’s the No. 3 player on her team.
10. Hannah Darling, Fr., South Carolina: The Scot had an amazing summer, winning the British Girls Amateur and capturing the individual portion of the European Ladies Team Championship. She also was a semifinalist at both the British Women’s Amateur and Scottish Women’s Amateur. She’ll be counted on significantly as the Gamecocks lost their three best players, but she can deliver.
11. Julia Johnson, Sr., Ole Miss: Her decision to come back for an extra year was big for the Rebels. Johnson has one of the best mental games in women’s college golf, and though she’s not as flashy as the Hecks and Lindblads of the sport, her numbers aren’t very different. She had five top-5 finishes last season, including at Grayhawk.
12. Rachel Kuehn, Jr., Wake Forest: When she’s on, she’s one of the best players on the course. She had a win and two other top-3s last spring and then was the stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. But she does need to add consistency, as she was T-53 at nationals and got bounced in the first round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
13. Yu-Sang Hou, Sr., Arizona: A two-time, second-team All-American, Hou led the Wildcats in six events, including all three postseason tournaments, upon arriving on campus last spring. She’s back for her extra year, but she’s also going through Q-School.
14. Lauren Walsh, Jr., Wake Forest: The Curtis Cupper cracked the top 15 in each of her first six starts last spring before struggling at Grayhawk. Her next step is winning in college. She has momentum after making the cut at the AIG Women’s Open.
15. Karen Fredgaard, Jr., Houston: The Dane had five top-3 finishes, including a win, last spring, and she also was third at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The Cougars may have lost head coach Gerrod Chadwell to Texas A&M, but as long as Fredgaard is there they will still be competitive. That said, she recently moved on to Stage II of Q-School.
16. Erica Shepherd, Jr., Duke: Her confidence with her longer clubs and on the greens has shown in her results. She won once and had two thirds in fall amateurs tournaments before winning her first college event last spring.
17. Cindy Kou, Fr., USC: Her ranking isn’t as high as others on this list, but that’s because she’s played mainly junior events. She has five top-7s, including a win, in AJGA tournaments the past two years, and this summer she made match play at both big USGA championships. She’s a good sleeper pick for first-team All-American.
18. Carolina Lopez Chacarra, Fr., Wake Forest: Skill-wise, she may be Wake’s best player, though adjusting to the college game is not always easy. Like her older brother, Eugenio, she has great hands and can work the ball both ways. She won an amateur title in Spain this summer and then was T-6 at the European Ladies.
19. Megan Schofill, Jr., Auburn: It was a sophomore season to forget for Schofill, though she did win a tournament. This summer she was a semifinalist at the Women’s North and South, and after narrowly missing out on a Curtis Cup spot, she’s motivated.
20. Benedetta Moresco, Soph., Alabama: It was a nice start to her college career with four top-10s last spring, but a breakout seems imminent. She won the Italian Ladies Stroke Play was shared sixth at the European Ladies.
21. Jenny Bae, Jr., Georgia: As she’s gotten healthy, her results have improved. She won a regional last spring and then captured the Georgia Women’s Amateur this summer before reaching the Round of 16 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
22. Caley McGinty, Jr., Oklahoma State: The reigning MAC player of the year is arguably the favorite to be Big 12 player of the year this season after transferring to Oklahoma State. She won three times last spring and then was second at her regional. At the European Ladies Team Championship this summer, she was T-10 individual before going 4-1 in match play to lead England to the title.
23. Annabell Fuller, Jr., Florida: McGinty’s fellow Curtis Cupper, Fuller made the GB&I team for a second time after a sparkling summer. She was a semifinalist at the English Women’s Amateur, a quarterfinalist at the British Women’s Amateur, went 4-2 for England at the European Ladies Team Championship and recently made the Women’s Open cut at Carnoustie. We will see how that translates into her junior year after she’s posted just four top-10s in two seasons in Gainesville.
24. Brianna Chacon, Soph., Oregon: She was a second-team All-American last season on the back of five top-10s. She didn’t have a great summer, though, after finishing runner-up at the SCGA Women’s Amateur two summers ago.
25. Sara Kouskova, Sr., Texas: She won an event last spring, but she only had one other top-10. With Kaitlyn Papp and Agathe Laisne gone, Kouskova is the No. 1 in Austin. She did win an LET event this summer, so she’s got the game to lead Texas back to match play.
26. Isabella Fierro, Jr., Oklahoma State: A wrist injury slowed Fierro a bit after four top-6 finishes last fall. She had three more top-10s in the spring, but she wasn’t her best during the Cowgirls’ NCAA run. She barely played this summer, but with a healthier wrist, she’s poised to get back to being a top-10 machine.
27. Aline Krauter, Sr., Stanford: The 2020 British Women’s Amateur champ struggled last spring, but she’s bounced back this summer, playing in two majors and then reaching the Round of 16 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
28. Charlotte Heath, Jr., Florida State: Another Curtis Cupper and member of England’s European Ladies team title, Heath will have no trouble building off a sophomore season in which she had five top-11 finishes. If Wallin departs, Heath has the talent to take the lead reins.
29. Andrea Lignell, Jr., Ole Miss: She may have only had two top-10s last season, but she was T-15 in stroke play at Grayhawk and then played a key role in Ole Miss’ title-winning run through match play. She’s got serious breakout potential.
30. Alexandra Forsterling, Sr., Arizona State: A back injury kept her out of regionals and nationals, but she made up for it this summer. She won the German International Amateur and then was runner-up to Linblad at the European Ladies Amateur.
NEXT 10: 31. Brooke Matthews, Sr., Arkansas; 32. Latanna Stone, Jr., LSU; 33. Annabel Wilson, Jr., UCLA; 34. Emily Mahar, Sr., Virginia Tech; 35. Brianna Navarrosa, Soph., USC; 36. Ashley Menne, Soph., Arizona State; 37. Sophie Guo, Jr., Texas; 38. Gurleen Kaur, Sr., Baylor; 39. Alessia Nobilio, Fr., UCLA; 40. Kaleigh Telfer, Sr., Auburn