May 16, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina men's golf team will open play in the NCAA Southwest Regional on Thursday with a berth to the NCAA Championship on the line.
The 54-hole tournament runs through Saturday at the par-72, 7,387-yard Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club in Norman, Okla. The Gamecocks will compete against 13 teams for one of five spots from the regional available for a trip to the NCAA Championship, which will be held on May 31-June 3 at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.
The Gamecocks have had three weeks to prepare and rest after playing in tournaments five straight weeks to close out the regular season. Carolina is coming off a 10th-place finish at the SEC Championship.
"We're excited to be going," South Carolina associate head coach Don Hill said. "They were probably a little tired coming down the stretch. You always want to be fresh when you are playing in the postseason. We didn't play as well as we wanted to in the SEC Championship but we are fortunate enough that we've earned the opportunity to go play in the postseason."
After playing with several different combinations at the end of the regular season, the Gamecocks are going back to the lineup that sparked a successful run to start the spring, including back-to-back third-place finishes. Senior Wesley Bryan, junior Dykes Harbin and the talented freshman trio of Sean Kelly, Will Murphy and Caleb Sturgeon will attempt to get Carolina back to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2009.
Bryan is the only golfer on the squad with regional experience and he will be counted on to lead the way in Norman. His best regional finish was a tie for sixth showing at the East Regional in 2010 with rounds of 71-66-70=207. He is also familiar with the layout at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club as he played on the course in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2009.
"(Bryan) has eight to 10 rounds, including practice rounds, under his belt on the course," Hill said. "Hopefully, he can guide the freshmen around this golf course. I think his experience and good play there will help us tremendously."
Harbin, Kelly, Murphy and Sturgeon have all proven to be steady golfers for the Gamecocks this season as they have combined for 11 top-20 finishes. The three freshmen are ranked as the 15th best freshman class in the nation according to Golfstat, with an average score of 73.07. Sturgeon was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after producing a 72.58 stroke average, which ranks second all-time at South Carolina for a freshman.
South Carolina will be competing against eight of the nation's top 50 teams in Norman, including top-ranked Texas, No. 12 Georgia Tech, No. 13 Washington, No. 23 Florida State, No. 31 Oklahoma, No. 35 Illinois, No. 36 St. Mary's and No. 48 Middle Tennessee State. San Diego, Arizona, Sacramento State, Indiana/Purdue-Indianapolis and Loyola Chicago round out the field. The Gamecocks have faced five teams from the regional field and have a 0-5-1 head-to-head record against those teams.
This year marks the Gamecocks' 20th NCAA Regional appearance, including their 15th bid in the last 16 years. Carolina has advanced to the NCAA Championship 16 times. The Gamecocks own one regional title as it won the 2007 West Regional and went on to finish tied for 11th at the NCAA Championship. George Bryan IV shot rounds of 68-67-69=204 to lead the way with a tie for 10th finish. Carolina also finished runner-up in 1999 and tied for second in 2009. The Gamecocks' last regional appearance was at the 2010 East Regional where they finished eighth with a score of 846 (+6).
South Carolina will tee off in the first round on Thursday beginning at 8 am. CT on hole No. 10 and will be paired with Illinois and Middle Tennessee State. Live scoring will be available at golfstatresults.com.
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