Sept. 8, 2008
Will the third time be the charm? The University of Alabama men's golf team is hoping to charm the course at The Farm Golf Club this weekend when it travels to Rocky Face, Ga., near Dalton to defend its back-to-back team championships at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. It is the season opener for Alabama, ranked No. 8 in the Golf World/Nike Golf Preseason Coaches' Poll and No. 20 preseason by Golfweek.
Alabama is one of 15 teams competing. Play begins with the first round on Friday, September 12. The third and final round is on Sunday, September 14. The field includes Alabama, Auburn, Central Florida, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UAB and Wake Forest.
Jay Seawell's 2007-08 Alabama team won the Carpet Capital, repeating its 2006-07 win to give it back-to-back titles on the par 72 course at The Farm. Last season Alabama won it taking four of the five men who won the previous season, inserting Dalton, Ga., native Matt Hughes into the lineup. Hughes, who set the tournament record with 20 birdies, will return to his hometown again this weekend to compete for the Tide, but Alabama's lineup will include three men who are making their collegiate debuts. All-SEC senior golfer Matthew Swan and Hughes, a fifth-year senior, will be joined by true freshman Bud Cauley of Jacksonville, Fla., and redshirt freshmen Hunter Hamrick of Montgomery and Phillip Weaver of Tuscaloosa.
Gone from the Tide's lineup are the veterans who helped Alabama win a school record six tournament championships last season, including the 2008 SEC title. Alabama's senior class last year included 2008 Masters and U.S. Open participant Michael Thompson who was the SEC Golfer of the Year and 2008 SEC medalist as well as a first-team Ping All-American. Gone, too, are All-SEC golfers Gator Todd and Mark Harrell as well as two-time tournament champion Joseph Sykora who finished second at the 2008 SEC Championships. That veteran team, along with Swan and Hughes, helped power Alabama to the nation's No. 1 spot in college golf for much of the 2007-08 season.
"Not only is it a new year, it's a new team," said Alabama head golf coach Jay Seawell who was voted 2008 SEC Coach of the Year for his success in guiding the Tide. "I'm excited that Matthew and Matt are going to still be back from last year, but we're going to start three guys who have never played in a college golf tournament before. So it's exciting, and we'll see how we do. I think it's very important that we play well this year because I think it adds to the credibility to what we have done in the past, that we weren't just some blip on the radar screen. You want to build a program that is successful year in and year out. I think we've recruited guys who can step in immediately and keep Alabama golf on top. I'm excited to see how they do. The last few years I've kind of been managing a team. I get to coach a little bit now."
Seawell says he expects this to be a big year for Swan, noting it's the first time the four-time U.S. Amateur participant from Montgomery won't be the youngest on the team.
"I think he's relishing that role," said Seawell. "I think he's going to have a fabulous year. I think he has an opportunity to be a first-team All-American this year."
Cauley, who was the co-medalist at the 2008 Toyota Junior World Team Championships, is also a golfer Seawell says he expects to make an immediate impact. "Bud was one of the best recruits in the country, and I think he has the ability not just to make an impact on this team but an impact in college golf. I think he can be an immediate kind of guy. And Matt Hughes is one of the reasons we won this tournament last year. He made 10 birdies on the last 12 holes last year," said Seawell. "Phillip Weaver is going to make his debut. He made it to the U.S. Amateur and got an exemption this week, and so we're excited that a hometown guy gets a chance to play for the University of Alabama. I think he'll do great. And Hunter Hamrick, I think, is in the Bud Cauley class. I think he and Bud are going to be some of the class freshmen in college golf this year."
Following the Carpet Capital Collegiate, Alabama will play in the Golfweek/Ping Preview September 28-30 near Toledo, Ohio. Alabama hosts the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate October 13-14 at Birmingham's Old Overton Club and rounds out its fall schedule October 26-28 in Orlando, Fla., at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational. It will play in four regular season tournaments in the Spring between February and April before returning to defend its SEC championship at St. Simons Island, Ga., April 17-19.
Alabama finished 13th at the NCAA championships last year, a disappointment to Seawell and his team after having such great success throughout the season.
"The sting of the NCAA's took a little while to get over, to be honest," said Seawell, "but when you look back on the season, there was so much to be proud of in what we accomplished. I really enjoyed those guys and how much fun we had as a group. We all did it together, for four years. It wasn't a player here or a player there, it was all together. It really was a team success."
Golf fans can follow live scoring at the Carpet Capital Collegiate this weekend at www.golfstat.com.