South Carolina’s Gamecocks entered the 2015-16 season ranked among the nation’s best men’s golf team and they don’t shy away from the high expectations. They embrace them.
“You want high goals,” coach Bill McDonald said, “and I feel good about our possibilities.”
The Gamecocks feature a high-powered one-two punch in seniors Matt NeSmith and Will Starke and look to build on last season, one of the best in program history that included school-record five tournament wins and the team scoring record by more than four strokes.
Their goal: a fourth straight appearance — and a lofty finish — in the NCAA Championships, this one in Eugene, Ore.
The Gamecocks took the first step in that direction last weekend, opening the season with a third in the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Rocky Face, Ga. They posted a top-three-or-better finish for the ninth time in their last 10 tournaments.
“We played OK, but we didn’t play as well as we would have liked or as well as we can,” McDonald said. “They had the golf course set up very challenging, plus we had some mud balls and swirling wind, and I’m proud of the way the guys fought through it.”
In addition to NeSmith and Starke — both All-Americans and both chasing multiple school records — the Carpet Capital lineup included senior Sean Kelly, sophomore Keenan Huskey and freshman Scott Stevens. Freshman Ryan Stachler played as an individual, and junior Ben Dietrich provides experienced depth.
NeSmith especially sparked during the summer. After winning two spring college tournaments, including the SEC championship, he qualified for both the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur, won the Players Championship and was first alternate for the U.S. Walker Cup team. Huskey posted a run-away victory in the South Carolina Amateur, Kelly qualified for the U.S. Amateur and tied for third in the Palmetto Amateur, and Starke finished sixth in the Southern Amateur.
Starke received an invitation to play in a European Tour event in Germany that ends today, and Stachler will take his place in the lineup for the Shoal Creek Invitational, set for Monday and Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala.
NeSmith tied for seventh individually to lead USC in the Carpet Capital, and Stevens earned praise from his coach with his tie for 14th in his first college tournament.
“It doesn’t always work out, but I like to give freshmen some experience in the fall, and Scott played very well,” McDonald said.
After the Shoal Creek tourney, the Gamecocks have three more fall events — the Tavistock Invitational in Orlando (Oct. 18-20), the Camden Collegiate in Camden (Oct. 24-25) and the Ka’anapali Collegiate in Hawaii (Nov. 6-8).
Brent Roof (Columbia) and Paul Tucker (Waxhaw, N.C.) claimed a berth in the 2016 U.S. Four-Ball in sectional qualifying in Durham, N.C. ... Lea Anne Brown (Mt. Pleasant, T4), Pam Prescott (Piedmont, 7) and Leigh Coulter (Hopkins, 9) earned top-10 finishes in the Carolinas Senior Women’s Amateur in Hendersonville, N.C. Christine Hamrick (Columbia) tied for 16th. ... South Carolinians who advanced to the finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition: Sophia Burnett (Bluffton, girls’ 12-13), Sophie Guo (Bluffton, girls’ 14-15) and Hugh Faulkner (Greenville, boys’ 7-9). The finals will be held the Sunday prior to the 2016 Masters at Augusta National.