Junior Jordan Smith is the first to admit that the men’s golf team’s season hasn’t gone exactly as planned.
The men’s best finish of the year came April 14-15 as they took home seventh out of 14 teams at the TSU Big Blue Invitational.
“We knew the season could be kind of iffy because we don’t have a senior on the team,” Smith said. “We don’t have a whole lot of experience so it’s kind of a year to gain experience more than anything.”
Comprised of three freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors, the season was somewhat expected.
Despite the disappointment, however, the slate will be wiped clean this weekend as the young Racer team takes its shot at an OVC Championship.
“It’s been a bit of a rough year,” said sophomore Preston French. “But I think we have a good lineup – a good group of five guys who are playing well right now.”
Head Coach Eddie Hunt selected a five-man team of Smith, French, sophomores Jared Gosser and Duncan McCormick and freshman Matt Zakutney to represent the Racers this weekend at the OVC Championship.
The tournament will be played on the Fighting Joe course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
The 18-hole course is known for being the first trail course to break 8,000 yards. French said he believes the sheer length of the course plays nicely into the Racers’ hands.
“I think the course will be a little different from some of the courses we’ve been playing on,” French said. “It’s longer and a little tougher, which I think sets up well for our team.”
The OVC Championship is not the only thing at stake for the Racers this weekend.
A team championship carries with it an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Likewise, the individual with the lowest overall score earns one of 32 individual spots in the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship.
The team has not won an OVC Championship since 2010, when it was led by OVC Golfer of the Year Nick Newcomb. The team placed fifth last season, riding the efforts of Newcomb’s younger brother Patrick, who won the individual portion of the tournament.
“You win the tournament and you’re on to NCAAs,” French said. “That’s got to be in our minds going in. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
French and Smith will be looked upon to carry much of the load for the Racers. French leads the team with an average of 74.09 strokes per round. Smith is right on his heels in second with an average of 74.21.
Despite low expectations from some, French and Smith said they believe the team of five has what it takes to compete for the championship.
“We’re capable of winning,” French said. “With the way the course sets up in our favor, I think anything is possible, even with the season we’ve had.”
“I’m going in trying to win the thing,” Smith said. “If you’re going to a golf tournament not trying to win it, I don’t know what you’re doing.”
The Racers had a practice round Thursday before teeing off for their shot at an OVC Title today. The teams will play 18 holes each today Saturday and Sunday before the champions are crowned Sunday night.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer