Friday, February 18, 2005
TUSCALOOSA – For two years Jay Seawell eagerly awaited the reality of a home golf facility for his University of Alabama golf team, and, in the scant months that the Jerry Pate Center at Ol’ Colony has been open, the Crimson Tide team has already reaped its benefits.
“For us it’s been a great winter,” said Seawell whose team’s clubs have been idle since playing the final round of LSU’s University Club Intercollegiate on October 26. “We’ve had a mild winter. We’ve had a little rain but the Jerry Pate Center has covered all that at all times. That’s the great thing about that building, actually. Even though it’s winter and there’s been good weather, we probably would have had five to seven practices cancelled in the past, and we haven’t had one practice cancelled yet. That’s the great part about our new facility.”
The Jerry Pate Center is complete with six hitting bays, three for the Tide men’s team and three for the Tide women’s team.
“We obviously haven’t had any yet, but potentially you could hit in snow. In fact, we can be like the mailman because we can go in rain, sleet or snow now. We also have indoor putting greens and our video equipment inside so we can teach out of here. On really bad weather days in the past, we just had to go home. We were at the mercy of the weather. Now we can get some stuff done. You’d rather hit balls outside, don’t get me wrong. But we haven’t had to cancel practice yet, and that’s really been a plus in our preparation.”
Alabama will put that extra winter practice time to good use this weekend when it opens its spring season at one of the nation’s famed courses, Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The Tide is one of 17 teams competing in the 2005 Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship, hosted by the University of North Florida. Play begins on Sunday with the first round. The 54-hole tournament concludes with the third and final round on Tuesday, February 22.
The field includes Alabama, Arkansas, Augusta State, Central Florida, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Georgia State, Kentucky, LSU, North Florida, Northwestern, South Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA and UAB.
South Carolina is the tournament’s defending champion after finishing the 2004 tournament with a three-under par score of 852.
“It’s a fabulous field, and, first of all, you’re playing at a great venue,” said Seawell. “Sawgrass Country Club used to host the PGA Players Championship. So the golf course itself is going to be a great test. That’s how we basically do our schedule: we look at the golf course we play and then we also look at the field, and this tournament has both. We’re going to get to see some of the best teams in the country on a great venue. So we’ll learn a lot more about ourselves. We have high expectations, and this will be the first hurdle in achieving those expectations. I think we’ll find out where we stand early in the season.”
Competing in this tournament for Alabama will be Clint Provost, Mark Harrell, Gator Todd, Joseph Sykora and Thomas Hagler. That same quintet will represent Alabama in Puerto Rico February 27-March 1 at the Puerto Rico Classic.
“Clint is in his final year and I really see just a different commitment mentally from him,” said Seawell. “I think he realizes it’s his last semester so I’m really excited to see how he plays this first tournament. I think he’ll do well. Also, Gator, a freshman, I think this could be a breakout semester for him. Like all three of our freshmen, he now has some tournaments under his belt and has some experience from the fall. Gator has been practicing and playing really well throughout the whole winter, and I expect him to have a breakout tournament this week as well.”
Alabama played in five fall tournaments between mid-September and mid-October, posting top five finishes in three of those, including placing second of 15 teams at the University of Tennessee’s tournament of champions. And Alabama finished 13 under par as a team among one of the nation’s toughest fields and events, its own Jerry Pate National in October.
“I think we’ve got some good competition throughout our roster,” said Seawell. “These five that we are playing this weekend and next are the same five we played in the last two tournament of the fall. I think we’ve got some good competition. And I think Dwight Rogers and Lance Walker are right on the heels of these guys. And I think that’s what you have to have, guys pushing each other. Competition makes people better. So when we get back I have a good feeling that we’ll have some qualifying with at least one or two more before we set on a lineup.”