March 22, 2005
COLUMBIA, S.C. – It would be difficult to find a college golfer, much less another freshman, who has had as much success these past two weeks as Mark Anderson. Having played in only five collegiate tournaments, he has competed against the nation’s elite college golfers and has proved that he belongs among them.
Just one week after falling in a playoff and tying for first in the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship, Anderson birdied the second hole of a two-hole playoff to capture the first outright tournament win of his young collegiate career at the Schenkel EZ-Go Invitational March 19-20 in Statesboro, Ga.
A freshman from Beaufort, S.C., Anderson entered Sunday’s third round tied for sixth place and three straight three-putts on the back nine almost cost him a shot at the title. He persevered, however, to birdie the 18th hole and force a playoff with Georgia Southern’s Jon David Kennedy.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think I had a chance to tie it going into 18,” Anderson said. “I had some hiccups on the back nine and I was mad going down the 18th fairway. I hit it as hard as I could from about 260 yards out and it landed about 20 feet from the hole. Then I was able to two-putt for birdie.”
Going into the playoff hole, Anderson’s second-place finish at the Southern Highlands was in the back of his mind and he knew he did not want to lose two playoffs in a row.
“It’s a great feeling to get this first win,” he said. “I heard people say that I won last week, but in my heart I knew that I lost in a playoff and finished second. This win is redemption.”
At the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship in Las Vegas, Nev. March 11-13, Anderson battled through what he later learned was strep throat to tie for first place. The Southern Highlands Golf Club is a 7,510-yard, par-72 course that is a stop on the PGA Tour. Anderson managed to navigate it with ease, shooting a 66 on the first day and tying senior Alex Hamilton’s team-leading low-round score.
“After the practice round, I felt okay about my swing so I was just trying to get relaxed and ready to play,” he said. “On the front nine of the first round, I shot a 29 and came out of nowhere. It seemed like from then on, I never really struggled.”
Anderson’s focus the next two rounds was to play his own game and not worry about the others in the field. At the time of the tournament, eleven of the 15 teams were ranked in the top 15 of Golfweek’s collegiate rankings. At the end of three rounds, he was tied with UCLA freshman David Im and a playoff round on the 18th hole determined the individual winner.
“I wasn’t feeling well at all and I was drained completely after my third round,’ he said. “Eighteen was a hole I had played terribly all weekend because I never really could figure out how to play it. In the playoff, I played it the exact same way I did in the third when I bogeyed.”
Anderson currently leads the Gamecocks in stroke average and with three top-10 finishes. His win at the Schenkel EZ-Go Invitational not only moved him from 13th up to seventh in the national rankings, but also greatly boosted his confidence. “I think winning this tournament will help the rest of the season,” he said. “It shows me that I can play with all those guys out there, and it helps build my confidence.”
For now, Anderson just wants to stay consistent and he says he finally knows the way to prepare and practice the right way. He wants to move up in the rankings and not drop, although he realizes some weeks will be worse than others.
“I’ve figured out how to use practice rounds to get myself prepared to play, not so much from a ball-hitting standpoint, but rather from a mental position,” Anderson stated. “I feel really great about my swing and I need to focus on staying in the right frame of mind.”
As for the future, Anderson hopes to earn a few more wins before the season is over and be SEC Freshman of the Year, a candidate for National Freshman of the Year, all-SEC and an All-American.
He was named SEC Golfer of the Week last week after his impressive performance at the Southern Highlands. He was honored to receive the award because the SEC boasts many of the top teams in the nation.
“I really didn’t expect it,” Anderson said. “It’s not something that I was shooting for, but the SEC is one of the best conferences for golf, so it’s always meaningful when you receive an award like this.”
Anderson chose the University of South Carolina over such schools as Clemson, Purdue, Notre Dame, College of Charleston and Augusta State for a variety of different reasons, including location, academics and coaching. He thought the program was heading in a good direction under the guidance of head coach Puggy Blackmon.
“He knows a lot about the game and has helped me be better prepared to play. I feel like I’m not struggling on the course to hit shots and I think that has a great deal to do with the way I’ve been coached.”
Another factor in his decision to become a Gamecock was that Anderson knew he could contribute immediately and would not have to redshirt a season.
“I wanted to make an impact starting out in the fall, but I didn’t really play that well and it didn’t look like I was going to do it. Obviously right now I’m playing better and I think I’m an important part of the team, which is also something I was looking for.”