South Carolina’s men’s team sizzled through the fall, and coach Bill McDonald expects his players to go into the spring schedule loaded with confidence.
The Gamecocks entered four fall-season tournaments and came away with two wins and a runner-up.
“Look at the fields in Wisconsin and at Kiawah, and we’re supposed to win,” McDonald said. “But even so, it’s not easy when you’re expected to win. You have to be strong mentally to handle it, and our players handled it well. We had the low team score in five straight rounds and barely missed making it six in a row, and that’s difficult to do no matter what the competition is.”
McDonald’s Big Three — junior Caleb Sturgeon and sophomores Matt NeSmith and Will Starke — set the pace, and junior Will Murphy and freshman Ben Dietrich answered the coach’s challenge that “somebody else had to step up.” They needed to fill a hole; junior Sean Kelly, a two-year starter, missed the fall with a wrist injury.
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McDonald knows stronger competition awaits, but he likes the spring’s possibilities.
“We’ve won the tournaments we should win, but (optimism) is more than that,” he said. “Look at the statistics. We’ve played some pretty tough golf courses and we have two guys (NeSmith and Sturgeon) with scoring averages just over 72. We’re playing well, and if we continue to get help from others, we’ll be fine. If Sean (Kelly) comes back like we hope, that will be another plus.”
A year ago, the Gamecocks were within a whisker of winning the SEC tournament and sharing second place in the NCAA East Regional. Instead, they skidded in the NCAA National Championship tourney, falling to 27th.
Those challenges are down the road. The team next plays on Feb. 21. That does not mean the players will be idle.
“There will be some down time, just settling in, because most of them played a pretty rigorous summer schedule and our fall season started right after school started,” McDonald said. “They’ll use the time off to make any changes in their swings or their equipment, and, hopefully, they’ll be fresh for the spring.”
McDonald and his staff will meet with each player individually before exams to set goals.
It’s safe to say those expectations will be lofty.
Kelli Murphy (Elgin) and Jonathan Hardee (Greer) won the girls’ and boys’ titles in the SCJGA’s Cheraw Fall Challenge. Age group winners: Travis Mancil (Hilton Head, boys’ 13-14), Anthony Sutton (Lancaster, boys’ 11-12), Walker Jennings (Greenville, boys’ 8-9), Gracyn Burgess (Leesville, girls’ 11-13) and Mary Kathryn Talledo (Blythewood, girls’ 8-10). ... Tickets for the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, set for April 17-20 at Hilton Head Island, are on sale at tournament headquarters. Call (843) 671-2448 or go to rbcheritage.com. Information on volunteer opportunities is available online or by calling volunteer coordinator Bonnie Hunt at the tournament office. ... Tickets for the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte (May 1-4) go on sale Tuesday at wellsfargochampionship.com or by calling (800) 945-0777. ... Former Clemson All-American Ben Martin (Greenville) joins Chesson Hadley, Michael Putnam and John Peterson as finalists for the 2013 Web.com Tour player of the year award . ... Clemson freshman Ashlan Ramsey helped the U.S. win the Sprint International, a competition that features four-player teams from 20 nations.