TUSCALOOSA - Another tournament; yet another lineup. The University of Alabama golf team, ranked No. 2 in the Golf World/Nike Coaches’ poll and No. 3 in the Golfweek preseason poll, will use its third different lineup in as many tournaments this weekend when it competes at the Ping/Golfweek Preview.
On Sunday Alabama won the Carpet Capital Collegiate, where 13 of the 18 teams were ranked, using a lineup of Michael Thompson, Mark Harrell, Matt Hughes, Matthew Swan and Gator Todd. Thompson finished second individually. In its season opener, Japan’s TOPY Cup, Alabama came in second among an international field of 10 teams with a lineup that included individual champion Joseph Sykora, Thompson, Harrell, Todd and Stewart Whitt.
When Alabama hits Purdue’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex-Kampen Course for the first two rounds on Saturday, it will go without Thompson, its 2007 Ping All-American and U.S. Amateur finalist. The lineup will include Harrell, Hughes, Sykora, Swan, and Todd.
“In the fall, it’s actually the end of the year in terms of the golf season,” said Alabama head coach Jay Seawell whose Alabama teams have won five out of the last 15 tournaments. “Even though it’s the start of the new golf season, we’ve been going at it pretty hard since January. NCAA’s were in June. And all summer long, guys have played in U.S. Am’s, the U.S. Open, and a lot of other tournaments. It’s what you have to do in this sport to play successfully at this level. You miss a lot of school in the fall because of so many tournaments in a row, so this fall we knew we were going to have to shuffle the lineup a lot because they are student-athletes. We want our kids to graduate. They’re all in line to graduate and that’s a priority. So we’re not going to ever sacrifice their schoolwork for the golf team. So this week we’re going to leave Michael out. He’s missed a lot of school between making the U.S. Amateur finals and going to Japan and then our tournament last weekend. So he’s going to stay out and catch up on his schoolwork. This week he’ll stay home, get some good rest and catch up on some school work that he’s missed because of his great play this summer and fall.”
Thompson is an Academic All-Southeastern Conference golfer, as are Sykora, Harrell, Swan, Hughes and Whitt. Sykora, in fact, is an ESPN Academic All-American (among athletes from several different sports) and, with a 4.0 GPA, has won back-to-back SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year awards in golf.
The five competing at the Ping/Golfweek Preview include four golfers with U.S. Amateur experience. Todd, Harrell, Swan and Sykora were also, along with Thompson, the returning five who led Alabama to a sixth place NCAA finish in 2007. Hughes finished 10th last weekend at the Carpet Capital and was a 2007 U.S. Amateur participant, winning the Atlanta qualifier to gain entry.
Alabama will need that strong lineup for this weekend’s tournament as 13 of the 15 teams are ranked in the Coaches’ poll this week. The field includes No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Southern California, No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Florida State, No. 9 Charlotte, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 14 Coastal Carolina, No. 16 UNLV, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 18 Louisville, No. 21 Lamar, and No. 25 Georgia State.
Golfweek, co-sponsor of the event has in its preseason poll the Tide at No. 3, USC at No. 5, Florida at No. 6, UNLV at No. 8, at No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 13 Florida State, No. 15 Charlotte, No. 16 Coastal Carolina, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 18 Arizona State, No. 20 Louisville, No. 25 Minnesota and No. 28 Georgia State in its preseason Top 30 picks.
“That’s the way we do it here,” said Seawell of playing back-to-back events against fields packed with Top 25 ranked teams. “We’re going to play the best tournaments, the best fields. I think the guys are ready for it. They’re excited. You get a chance to preview the golf course where the national championship will be played. So it’s a great tournament, a great field, and if you’re going to win, you better play great.
“I don’t really know much about the course,” said Seawell . “I know it’s long. It’s about 7,400 yards, which is long. It’s a long hitter’s golf course. That’s the reason The Preview is going to be really good for us because it’s going to give us a head start on what to expect hopefully in May (at NCAA’s). And, with Michael not being here, some people are going to have to step up. And I think this week you’ll see some key guys who are very good players on our team step up and assume that leadership role on the golf course this week.”
Teams will play two rounds on Saturday and the third and final round is on Sunday. Golfweek will provide live streaming of the tournament on its website, www.golfweek.com/live. Lance Ringler and Jay Coffin will call the action from the 18th hole during the final round.