With a first- and a third-place team finish and two individual titles in the fall, South Carolina’s Gamecocks approach the spring golf season with coach Bill McDonald “really optimistic” about the potential.
“I’m pleased overall with the fall (four tournaments),” McDonald said. “We used four different lineups, played eight of our 10 guys and finished on a good note with the win at Kiawah. Now we have to find the five players for (spring) tournaments.
Four players — Dean Hester, Sean Kelly, Will Murphy and Caulder Moore — will play in an individual tournament this week in Savannah, then the team’s first spring team competition begins Feb. 22 in the Bayou City Collegiate in Houston.
Senior Dykes Harbin and sophomore Caleb Sturgeon won individual tournament titles in the fall, and freshman Matt NeSmith joined them in playing in all fall events. NeSmith, named the 2012 AJGA Rolex junior player of the year, tied for fourth last weekend in the Jones Cup Invitational, a tournament that attracted 90 top amateurs.
“We’re in the middle of qualifying and we haven’t set a lineup,” McDonald said in looking to the spring opener. “With the recent windy conditions, it’s tough to gauge where guys are this time of year, but I’m pleased with how hard all the players have worked and the positive energy we have.”
In addition to his victory, Harbin has another top-10 finish and leads the team with a 72.25 average. Sturgeon (74.25) and NeSmith (74.33) follow, and freshman Will Starke finished second in his only start.
“Dykes has been really solid,” McDonald said. “His win was big for us. He’s been in the top 20 in every tournament, and he’s a great leader. Caleb started to come around with his win, and Will almost won his first college start. The expectations for Matt have been so high, and he has two top-10s plus a tie for 19th in his first start against a strong field.
“Young guys come in with strong resumes and you never know how they will adjust to the grind, but ours have handled it very well.”
The Gamecocks used the break between the final fall tournament in late October until now to rest a bit, increase conditioning, fine-tune equipment and work on any swing adjustments.
“The season is really a long grind, and we need them to rest without completely shutting down,” McDonald said. “They will go from now until October in tournaments either with the team or individually in top amateur competition. I see a lot of positive possibilities for them.”
After the Houston tourney, the Gamecocks play at the Lake Jovita Classic in Tampa (Mar. 3-5), Palmetto Invitational in Aiken (Mar. 11-12), Hootie at Bulls Bay in Awendaw (Mar. 24-26) and Augusta State Invitational (Apr. 6-7) before the SEC Championship in St. Simon, Ga, (Apr.19-21).
David May (Greenville/Clemson) and Drew Ernst (Seneca/Coastal Carolina) earned spots in the Web.com Tour’s BMW Charity Classic in qualifying at the Thornblade Club in Greer. May shot a 4-under-par 67 and Ernst, a former South Carolina Amateur champion, posted a 68 to lead the field of 23. The tourney will be played May 16-19 at Thornblade, Greenville Country Club’s Chanticleer Course and the Reserve at Lake Keowee. ... Major champions Martin Kaymer (PGA) and Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open) joined K.J. Choi and Rory Sabbatini in committing to play in the RBC Heritage, set for April 18-21 at Hilton Head. For ticket informration, go online to www.rbcheritage.com or call (843) 671-2448. ... Matt Daly will leave Blackmoor Golf Club in Murrells Inlet to become head professional at both Pine Lakes Country Club and Myrtlewood Golf Club in Myrtle Beach. ... The CGA will conduct a rules of golf seminar at Woodlands Country Club on Mar.13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Other seminars in the state, all from 5:30-7:30, include, Moss Creek (Hilton Head Island, Mar. 4), Wild Dunes (Isle of Palms, Mar. 6), Prestwick (Myrtle Beach, Mar. 7), Woodside Plantation (Aiken, Mar. 12) and Country Club of Spartanburg (Mar.14). All are free of charge and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to pre-register at www.carolinasgolf.org.