April 20, 2008
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. -
In his now six seasons as the University of Alabama's men's golf coach, Jay Seawell has produced several firsts for Alabama golf, the biggest of those perhaps being its first No. 1 national ranking, a level it achieved for the first time in 2007 and one it has repeated in 2008.
Sunday Seawell orchestrated yet another first for the Crimson Tide golf program: Alabama swept the 2008 Southeastern Conference Championships, winning both the team championship and the individual championship. Alabama shot 13-under par in Sunday's final round at Frederica Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga., to win the team title and senior Michael Thompson shot 65 to finish the tournament 8-under par and capture the individual championship.
"Michael played unbelievable golf. A 65 today under all the pressure and everything that's going on," said Seawell, "that was a total round today. I'm very proud of him and happy for him. He's been close a couple of times. I know he did it when he was at Tulane, but now we can add a victory for him at the University of Alabama."
The win marks Alabama's sixth team tournament championship of the season out of 10 stroke-play events. It is Alabama's first SEC golf team championship in 29 years and only the second time ever it has won. Alabama's 1979 team won the league title as well. Thompson became only the second Alabama golfer in history to win the SEC's individual championship, a moment 56 years in the making. Bobby Hill won it for Alabama in 1952.
"There's nothing I can describe in words how pumped up we are," said Thompson from the clubhouse after his team won. "We were high-fiving on 18 green, just going nuts. It was crazy. And then one of our former golfers who flies us, he was calling all the guys who played on that 1979 team, and he said that they were all screaming."
Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/Nike Coaches' Poll and No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, led the tournament each day from the first to final round. It finished at 11-under par, scoring 285-293-275/853 to win on the par 72 course, finishing eight shots ahead of second place and No. 10 ranked South Carolina. Six of the 12 teams in the SEC are ranked among the nation's top 13.
"It feels fantastic," said Seawell shortly after the win. "It feels just like I thought it would. Unbelievable. I'm really proud of the guys. It was a tight day. The last four holes--we've talked about it--last year our last four holes were kind of our demise here. And this year the four holes were the difference. I am proud of them for how they played. Nobody hands you an SEC Championship. You've got to win it and the guys won it today. I'm really proud of them."
The final team standings saw Alabama finish first at 11-under, 853, followed at 3-under, 861, by South Carolina. No. 2 ranked Georgia finished third at 2-under, 862. Florida was fourth, 872, followed by Mississippi State, 878, Tennessee, 881, Ole Miss, 884, tied at 8th Auburn and LSU, 888, at 10th Vanderbilt, 890, at 11th Kentucky, 893, and at 12th Arkansas, 897.
When Thompson bested the field of 60 golfers Sunday, he became the fourth different Alabama golfer to win a collegiate championship this season. Joseph Sykora opened the season by winning the Topy Cup in September. Mark Harrell was co-champion at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in October. And Matthew Swan won the Puerto Rico Classic on March 2.
Thompson is perhaps Alabama most decorated golfer, advancing to the U.S. Amateur final in August and playing in the Masters as an amateur just a week ago. But even though the senior from Tucson has finished among the top 10 individuals in all seven of the tournaments he's played for Alabama this season and had seven top 10 finishes as a transfer last season, he had yet to win an individual collegiate championship at Alabama. He'd won four his freshman and sophomore seasons at Tulane in 2004 and 2005.
"This one feels awesome," said Thompson of his first Alabama collegiate win. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Thompson shot 70-73-65/208, with a 7-under par round Sunday, to finish at 8-under par, four strokes ahead of his teammate, Sykora, who tied for second with South Carolina's George Bryan IV.
"I was making putts," said Thompson when asked what the difference was in Sunday's play. "Yesterday I couldn't make anything. I spent some time on the putting green just trying to get my feel back with my putting and went out today and birdied the first two holes and made like a 50-foot putt on No. 2 for birdie. And after that I just said to myself, `Okay. Here we go, let's get it going,' because it was a putt I should not have made. I just kind of rode the momentum after that."
Thompson moved from fourth after 36 holes Saturday to win. Sykora led the field after both the first and second rounds. He finished T-2nd, carding 68-73-71/212 to finish at 4-under par. Finishing T-15th were Alabama teammates Mark Harrell and Matt Hughes. Harrell had Alabama's biggest comeback of the tournament, going from a 77 on Saturday to shooting 66 on Sunday, a score that helped power Alabama's team win. Harrell shot 76-77-66/218. Hughes, playing in his first SEC Championship, shot 72-73-73/218, like Harrell, finishing 2-over par. Rounding out Alabama's win was Swan who shot 76-74-74/224 to finish T-37th at 8-over.
"We shot 13-under today," said Seawell whose golfers birdied a total of 23 holes on Sunday. "We were 8-under the last four holes. It got good out there. South Carolina made an unbelievable run and then Georgia made one late. I think all that energy may have helped, I don't know what happened. I do think the guys on my team are winners. And when you're a winner, you've got to do what you've got to do to win. The other teams were making birdies so they understood that if they were going to win, they needed to make some and we made a whole bunch of them."
Alabama now awaits its bid into the NCAA tournament. The NCAA announces the fields for its three regionals on Monday, May 5. Because of its ranking and head-to-head play against teams in the regional, Alabama will likely participate in the East Regional which is May 15-17 at Council Fire Golf Club in Chattanooga. The other regional sites include the Central Regional in Columbus, Ohio, and the West Regional in Bremerton, Wash. The 10 top teams from each regional advanced to the NCAA finals which are May 28-31 in West Lafayette, Ind.
"I think this should give us some confidence," said Seawell when asked how the win may affect Alabama as it goes into the biggest tournaments of the season. "This is a big championship. We've won tournaments before, but this is a championship. To go through and win a championship against this field and these teams I think would do nothing but help us propel to get us ready for that next level and that next goal which is to bring a national championship home."