Sept. 30, 2012
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina men's golf team returns to the course for the first time in three weeks on Monday as it hosts the Rees Jones Invitational at Haig Point Club in Daufuskie Island, S.C.
The 54-hole tournament will get underway with 36 holes on Monday and will conclude with 18 on Tuesday on the par-72, 7,380-yard Rees Jones Signature Course.
The Gamecocks are coming off a tie for 11th finish at the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate, and South Carolina associate head coach Don Hill believes the team has made great strides during the last three weeks of practice heading into Monday.
"It was nice to have some time to prepare," Hill said. "We just didn't have a lot of prep time for the Carpet Capital, and I think that showed a little in the first couple of rounds. I think the guys have regrouped. We've had a lot of great competition. We had a pretty heavy qualifier, and the guys responded. It was nice to see some nerves because practice needs to be a little difficult."
South Carolina will be sending out a near identical lineup as it did to open the season with one exception. Senior Dykes Harbin enters the week in the No. 1 position and will be joined by freshman Matt NeSmith and sophomores Sean Kelly and Caleb Sturgeon. The new addition to the lineup this week is sophomore Will Murphy, who played in nine tournaments a year ago and ranked fourth on the team with a 73.88 stroke average. Senior Dean Hester is also penciled in to play as an individual.
Harbin and NeSmith both had a solid start to the season, finishing tied for 14th and 19th, respectively, at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Sturgeon and Kelly also played in the season-opening event and tied for 66th and 68th, respectively. Kelly will look to have a repeat of last year's Rees Jones Invitational as he had a breakout performance to finish third and lead the Gamecocks to a second-place showing. Kelly caught fire in the final two rounds to shoot 69 (-3) and 70 (-2).
"His last two rounds last year shows a lot about where his golf game is," Hill said of Kelly. "That golf course suits him very well. He's a very straight hitter and is very consistent and doesn't get ahead of himself. It really puts him in position to be successful."
The Gamecocks are making their fourth appearance at the Rees Jones Invitational and they have had plenty of success in their previous three visits. South Carolina won the tournament in 2008 and 2009 and finished second last year. As a team, the Gamecocks hold the tournament record for low 18-hole score (280 in 2009), low 54-hole score (869 in 2009) and low 18-hole individual score (68 by Paul Woodbury in 2009).
This year's field will prove to be a tough test as it includes two-time defending champion Kennesaw State, Charleston Southern, Charlotte, East Carolina, Francis Marion, Iowa State, Liberty, Presbyterian, Tennessee Tech, UNC Wilmington and Winthrop.
"It's really a sneaky good field," Hill said. "It's not something that the casual golf observer would recognize. I think almost three fourths of the field made it to the postseason last year. We have a bunch of good golf teams and we will have to go play well to be successful."
The teams will be playing on one of the most difficult golf courses not only in the country but also the world. The Rees Jones Signature Course has consistently made Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Courses and Golf Magazine's Top 100 in the World list.
"The course record is a 68, and that pretty much says it all," Hill said. "It's a difficult test of golf. Our guys went down there and had some practices down there and feel pretty comfortable there. The one thing you have to do is hit the fairway. If you don't hit the fairway, it's going to be really difficult."
The tournament begins on Monday with a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. South Carolina will be paired with Kennesaw State and Charlotte for the first two rounds. Live scoring will be available by clicking here. Admission to the tournament this year is $25 for the first day and $10 for the third round, which includes the ferry ride to Haig Point.
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