For the first time in his 13 head-coaching season, Bill McDonald did not sweat out the final round in watching his South Carolina Gamecocks compete in a college tournament. Rather, he just enjoyed the ride and admired the achievements in his squad’s runaway triumph in the Palmetto Intercollegiate in venerable Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken.
Led by senior Will Miles’ 13-under-par 197, the Gamecocks set school and tournament records at 27-under-par 813 and claimed the title by an astounding 35 strokes.
“I didn’t see that type of domination coming, but I’m not surprised we played well,” McDonald said after his school-record 22nd tourney win. “We’ve been fighting the weather in terms of getting quality practice time, but our guys have been working really hard and that paid off.”
Although the field included only three ranked teams, “you just don’t see scores at Palmetto like we had,” McDonald said. “Most of our guys grew up playing Palmetto, and after we started well, scores snowballed. In team golf, if you see a teammate making putts, they feed off one another.”
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In addition to Miles, whose 54-hole score tied for the second lowest in school history and earned him SEC golfers of the week honors, two Gamecocks — seniors Ryan Stachler and Scott Stevens — shared second place at 206 and Caleb Proveaux tied for fifth at 207. Jamie Wilson tied for 19th individual at 215.
“I couldn’t be happier for Will,” McDonald said. “As a coach, watching him play like he did with his parents there ... it doesn’t get much better than that. But this represents a great team performance and is a testament to hard work.”
The triumph at Palmetto began a busy stretch for the Gamecocks. Carolina opens play Sunday in the Valspar Intercollegiate in Palm City, Florida, with the Hootie at Bulls Bay near Charleston (March 25-27) and the Augusta Invitational (April 6-7) to follow. The SEC Championship begins April 25 and the NCAA Regionals and Championship are set for May.
“It’s a quick turn-around for the Valspar, and the tournament has one of the best fields in college golf,” McDonald said. “We should have a lot of confidence after the way we played at Palmetto, but I’ve seen it work both ways.
“In Matt NeSmith’s junior year, we won the Carpet Capital the week after we blew an opportunity the week before. Then, a couple of years ago, we won the Hootie tournament and didn’t play the same after that.”
McDonald obviously hopes his team peaks at conference and national tournament time, and he knows there is room for improvement. He grimaces at the memory of “a couple of loose tournaments” in the fall, but he sees his team trending upward now.
The Gamecocks, ranked 31st by Golfstat, will get a boost when freshman Ray Hall, with three top-20 finishes in four fall events, returns from a wrist injury. He has missed the spring season and could be ready for the Augusta event or the SEC Championship.
“Competition is good, and we’ve seen that in our qualifying,” McDonald said. “We want to keep building on a really cool performance. You ride the wave when it comes your way, and we want to keep going.”
Chip shots. South Carolina’s women’s team climbed one spot to ninth in the Golfstat national rankings after sharing second place in a strong field in the Darius Rucker Invitational at Hilton Head Island. Junior Lois Kaye Go posted her fourth straight top-10 finish and is ranked 13th individually. Freshman Emily Price, 12th in the individual national rankings, and senor Marion Veysseyre tied for 12th. ... Furman is No. 20 and Clemson No. 22 in the Golfstat women’s poll. ... A team of SCGA amateurs defeated a squad of state PGA pros in the annual Palmetto Cup Matches at Pawleys Island. ... The field for the RBC Heritage, slated for April 18-21 at Hilton Head Island, will include world’s No. 1 Dustin Johnson and five-time champion Davis Love III. Go online to www.rbcheritage.com or call the tournament office at 843-671-2448 for details and ticket information.