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September 6, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina men’s golf team is set to open its 2012-13 season on Friday at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Dalton, Ga.

The 54-hole event runs through Sunday at The Farm Golf Club, which boasts a par-72, 7,012-yard layout. The course recently upgraded its greens, and South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald is ready to see his team compete on the new look at what was already a challenging course.

“It’s on a great golf course,” McDonald said. “They just got new greens. They’ve been open for about a month. That’s going to change the character of the golf course a little bit. That’s going to be different, but we all have to play it. Long term it will be really good for the golf course. It’s always a great field. It will be a challenge for us, but we have a good team going there. We’ve had great preparation leading up to the event.”

The Gamecocks enter the year with their sights set on making it to the NCAA Championship as they return a solid core from a 2011-12 squad that finished eighth at the NCAA Southwest Regional. After one of the most successful summers in program history, Carolina’s expectations rose even more.

Senior Dykes Harbin won the Southeastern Amateur. Freshman Matt NeSmith captured wins at the AJGA Footjoy Invitational and the Rolex Tournament of Champions and he played in the PGA Wyndham Championship, missing the cut by just two strokes. Senior Dean Hester and junior Blaine Woodruff both played in the U.S. Amateur Championship.

“It’s probably the best summer we have had in my tenure here,” McDonald said. “I don’t think anybody on the team played poorly. From top to bottom, it was a really strong summer. Matt and Dykes probably stood out a little more than some of the others, but we had so many guys play well. Hopefully, it bodes well for the upcoming season.”

The Gamecocks will travel to Dalton with an experienced lineup of Harbin, junior Caulder Moore, sophomores Caleb Sturgeon and Sean Kelly and NeSmith.

Harbin is expected to lead the way for the Gamecocks in his senior campaign after being one of the team’s most consistent golfers a year ago. A native of Augusta, Ga., Harbin played in all 12 tournaments in 2011-12, ranking third on the squad with a stroke average of 73.54 and recording four top-20 finishes.

“Really it started with him last year,” McDonald said of Harbin. “It started in the weight room his sophomore year, and then he carried it over to the golf course last year and had a really solid year for us.”

Moore finished last season with a scoring average of 75.33 after playing in two tournaments, including the Carpet Capital Collegiate.

Sturgeon and Kelly had stellar freshman campaigns for the Gamecocks. A native of Laurens, S.C., Sturgeon earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors after ranking second on the team and 24th in the conference in scoring with an average of 72.89. He led the team in top-10 finishes with three. Kelly played in eight tournaments a year ago, finishing in the top 20 on two occasions.

NeSmith looks to carry over the momentum of his successful summer to make an immediate impact. He joins the Gamecocks as the top-ranked junior golfer in the Polo Golf Rankings.

This year marks the 24th playing of the Carpet Capital Collegiate. The Gamecocks are making their 22nd appearance at the event, with their best finish being a tie for first in 2007. Carolina tied for 11th last season, as Harbin tied for 21st to lead the way with rounds of 73-73-72=218 (+2).

The Gamecocks have had two golfers medal at the event. Kyle Thompson (69-69-70=208) and David Seawell (69-68-73=210) won at The Farm in 2000 and 1994, respectively.

This year’s field will be one of the strongest in tournament history with seven teams ranked in the Golf World Top 25, including top-ranked Alabama and defending national champion Texas. Also representing the SEC is No. 6 Auburn, No. 19 Georgia, LSU and Tennessee. Seventh-ranked Georgia Tech, No. 25 Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest make up a solid ACC contingent, while No. 15 North Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Kennesaw State and Chattanooga will also compete this weekend.

Carolina will be paired with Tennessee and Kennesaw State for the first two rounds and will tee off on hole No. 10 beginning at 10:12 a.m. Live scoring will be available by clicking here.