TUSCALOOSA Jay Seawell says he hasn’t noticed any particular change in his University of Alabama golfers since they’ve returned to practice after taking three days off after finishing second in the NCAA Central Regional last Saturday.
What he has noticed is the five men who will represent the Crimson Tide golf team at the 2007 NCAA Championships May 30-June 2 have the same quiet confidence he’s seen all season.
“We’ve had a great week of practice. The guys are ready. We’re looking forward to the challenge, starting on Monday with the practice rounds. We’re looking forward to it,” said Seawell whose team heads into the championships as a title contender and the No. 3 seed. “I think there’s a confidence. I think they’re excited about the opportunity they have before them. I think there’s an energy about them, but they seem pretty relaxed. I don’t see much difference except that they do realize they have a chance to win a national championship which adds a little more excitement at practice.”
Alabama will be one of 30 teams, along with six individuals from teams that did not qualify, competing for the national team and individual titles at the 110th Annual NCAA Men’s Golf Championships in Williamsburg, Va. The tournament will be played at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s Gold Course, a par 70 with a 6,803 yards layout.
The Crimson Tide, ranked No. 3 in the Golf World/NIKE Coaches’ poll and No. 4 in the Golf Week/Sagarin rankings, advanced by finishing second, falling just three strokes short of the championship, at the May 17-19 NCAA Central Regional at Harvest Rich Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. It’s the second time Seawell has advanced an Alabama team to the finals. In 2005 Alabama finished second playing with three of the five men he’s taking this year. Mark Harrell, Joseph Sykora and Gator Todd were freshmen on that 2005 team which was making Alabama’s first appearance back in the finals since 1996.
Those three are all juniors now and they are joined in their title quest by their scoring leader, Michael Thompson. An impact player, Thompson transferred to Alabama this season from Tulane after the school dropped its golf program in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Thompson lost his car in the hurricane’s flood waters but gained a place on a team that the 2005 All-Conference USA golfer and 2007 All-Southeastern Conference golfer has helped make history with. Alabama is a national title contender because it opened the season in September and October by winning three straight tournament championshipstitles among stellar fieldsthen opened the spring season with another championship at Sawgrass. It finished second in three other tournaments. Along the way it set school records, including the 54-hole team record. It shot 819 to win the Jerry Pate National. That’s 33 under par on a challenging course at Old Overton Club.
Still, Seawell says while his Tide is a contender, there’s another SEC school that looms a favorite. Alabama spent late September through early February as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team. Georgia stepped in at No. 1 by early March and has held on to that top spot.
“I think you’d have to say Georgia is the favorite,” said Seawell whose Alabama quintet also includes three-time U.S. Amateur participant and sophomore Matthew Swan. “The way they’ve played all spring, being the No. 1 seed and the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, they rightly should be the best team. And I think there are a handful of other teams, and that includes us, that have the ability to beat them, and if we play well, I think we can. But I think you have to give them the nod right now as the team to beat.”
Alabama and Georgia have played in six tournaments together this season. Georgia claimed the team championship in four of those events. Alabama finished ahead of the Bulldogs in the other two tournaments, including the SEC Championships where Alabama finished second and Georgia finished sixth.
Seven SEC teams are among the field for the finals, including top-seeded Georgia, third-seeded Alabama, fifth-seeded Florida, 10th-seeded Tennessee, 16th-seeded South Carolina, 18th-seeded Auburn and 20th-seeded Vanderbilt.
On Monday, May 28, Alabama will step on the course with a 7:10 a.m. CT practice round tee time. On Tuesday it has an 11 a.m. CT practice tee time. It will officially open play from the No. 10 tee at 11:12 a.m.CT on Wednesday, May 30 for first round play. Alabama is set for a 6:00 a.m. CT second round start from the No. 1 tee. The third and final rounds of the 72-hole tournament are set by finishes.
“I don’t really know much about this course,” said Seawell. “What I understand about it is that it’s just medium length at best. Keep it in the fairway. I think it’s a tree-lined golf course, so you need to keep it in the fairway. And if you do that you have a lot of opportunities to make birdie. If you hit it kind of crooked, that’s where the scores become a little bit higher. So you’ve just got to hit it straight and make putts. Sounds like golf to me.”
The length of the event can also become a factor. Teams play 54-holes during a regular season tournament and even the NCAA regional. And they typically only get one day for the practice round. This one lasts six days.
“That is something you have to adjust to,” said Seawell who coached Augusta State to a fifth-place national finish before taking the Alabama job in the summer of 2002. “We’ve got one more day of practice Saturday, and then we’re going to give them Sunday off. We’ll do very minimal work when we get there because it is something different that you’re not used to. Six straight days of playing golf is a long time. So we won’t do much practicing there, just prepare ourselves on how to attack the golf course and then we’ll go out and enjoy Colonial Williamsburg on the off time.”
Alabama’s best finish at the NCAA Championships is third in 1975. Jerry Pate, a multi-event winner on the PGA Tour and now a Champions Tour player, was a senior on that Alabama squad.