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April 27, 2013

Gamecock golfers earning respect

After his team’s fall schedule that included a win and a third-place finish in four tournaments, Bill McDonald felt his South Carolina Gamecocks merited attention in the men’s national golf polls.

After his team’s fall schedule that included a win and a third-place finish in four tournaments, Bill McDonald felt his South Carolina Gamecocks merited attention in the men’s national golf polls.

But even a second and two thirds in a three-tournament spring stretch did not earn a ranking.

“That shows how good college golf is,” McDonald said, “but sometimes you would think, ‘What have we got to do?’ ”

Battling second-ranked Alabama to the wire in the SEC championship last weekend got the job done, and Golfstat Head-to-Head rankings placed the Gamecocks 20th and the Golfweek/Sagarin survey moved the team to 23rd.

“We’ve had, overall, a really good year, and the recognition is nice,” McDonald said. “The SEC tournament was both exciting in that we competed so well against a team of Alabama’s caliber, and disappointing that we didn’t win. I’m really proud of the way we played against Alabama. It got crazy with the championship on the line.”

In the process, the Gamecocks outplayed five conference rivals ranked in the coaches’ poll and the performance, McDonald believes, will provide a jolt of confidence — both immediately in the national tournament and in the future.

In the short term, regional pairings will be announced May 6; long-range, the Gamecocks played two freshmen (Matt NeSmith and Will Starke), two sophomores (Caleb Sturgeon and Sean Kelly) and one senior (Dykes Harbin) in the SEC.

“Those five, plus (junior) Caulder Moore and (sophomore) Will Murphy, give us a nice rotation with quality depth,” said McDonald, who noted six of the seven have posted top-10 tournament finishes this year. NeSmith leads with five, Sturgeon and Harbin have four, and Harbin and Sturgeon have won individual titles.

The team took shape in the fall, which concluded with a tournament victory at Kiawah Island.

“We established a lot of things then,” McDonald said. “Winning a tournament was a big boost. They have bought in to what we want to do, they keep battling and they’re a fun group to coach.”

Regionals will be May 16-18 with the national tourney scheduled in Atlanta May 28-June 2. In the interim, the Gamecocks will be busy with exams, U.S. Open local qualifying and individual practice. McDonald plans to hold a qualifying battle among Murphy, Starke and Moore with the winner joining Harbin, Sturgeon, Kelly and NeSmith in the NCAA lineup.

“I usually don’t have qualifying this late,” McDonald said, “but I think that speaks to the quality of depth we have.”

Chinese woman to join Gamecocks

Jiaxin Yang of Haikou City, China, will join the Gamecocks’ women’s golf team in the fall. She brings a wealth of international experience to the team.

Yang began playing at 10 and climbed to the top of China’s junior rankings in 2009. She earned China’s top amateur honors in 2010 and ’11. Her 15 tournament titles include the China Amateur Championship (2009) and the Future Collegians World Tour National Championship (2012).

She finished runner-up in the 2012 China Golf National Championship and competed in the 2010 Sanya Open on the Ladies European Tour, finishing tied for 24.

She has played as an amateur on the Suncoast Ladies Professional Tour in Florida this spring with three top-5 finishes.

Chip shots

Deadline for entry in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, sponsored by the USGA, the PGA of America and the Augusta National Golf Club, is Tuesday. See www.drivechipandputt.com for details. ...

Deadline to compete in the CGA Creed Junior Invitational May 25-26 at Camden Country Club is May 8. Boys 14-18 are eligible. ...

The River Club won the team and pro-am titles in the SCGA’s Trescott Championship at Musgrove Mill. Northwoods placed second in team and third in the pro-am competitions. ...

Winners in the Golfweek Amateur Tourney at Hillcrest in Orangeburg: Billy Hill, championship flight; Hiran Hicks, A flight; Massey Talley, B flight; George Tyree, C flight; and Wes Gentry, D flight. Players are placed in flights according to handicaps. For schedule and information, call John Livoti at (866) 918-4653.

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