May 22, 2014
COLUMBIA, S.C. — For the second-straight year, the 24th-ranked South Carolina men’s golf team is among the final 30 teams competing for the national title and will open play at the 2014 NCAA Championship on Friday.
The championship will be held at the par-70, 6,941-yard layout at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. The teams will play three days of stroke play (May 23-25) before the field is cut to eight teams for two days of match play (May 27-28). The top 40 individuals and ties will compete in a fourth day of stroke play on May 26 to determine the individual national champion. Carolina advanced to the championship with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Eugene Regional last week.
“I feel really good about our guys,” South Carolina assistant coach Alex Hamilton said. “They are really excited to be here. It’s a wonderful venue, a great golf course. It will challenge every portion of your game. You have to drive it straight, control your ball around the greens, control your putting on the greens and really manage your emotions and thought processes out there. I’m really looking forward to see how our guys handle it.”
After not having any NCAA Championship experience in last year’s lineup, the Gamecocks will have three golfers in this year’s lineup that competed at the national championship a year ago. Junior Caleb Sturgeon and sophomores Matt NeSmith and Will Starke all gained their first NCAA Championship experience last year at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Milton, Ga., and will look to lead the way in Hutchinson. Junior Will Murphy and freshman Ben Dietrich round out a lineup that won two regular-season tournaments and finished fifth at the SEC Championship and NCAA Eugene Regional.
South Carolina is one of 10 SEC teams to make the field this year. All 30 teams are ranked in the Golfstat Top 50, including 22 in the top 25. Five of the eight teams that advanced to match play a year ago made it back this season, with defending national champion Alabama leading the way. The top-ranked Crimson Tide has won eight times this season, including victories at the SEC Championship and NCAA Auburn Regional. Fourth-ranked California, No. 5 Georgia Tech, No. 9 Illinois and No. 13 Texas also earned a spot in match play at last year’s championship and made it back to Hutchinson. The Fighting Illini finished runner-up to Alabama. Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia State, Houston, Iowa State, Kennesaw State, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Oklahoma, Oregon, SMU, Southern California, Stanford, Texas A&M, UAB, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Washington round out the field. The Gamecocks have competed against 19 of the 30 teams at least once this season and have a 12-20 head-to-head record against those teams.
South Carolina is making its 18th trip all-time to the NCAA Championship. The Gamecocks’ 18 appearances are the seventh most in SEC history. The program’s best finish at the national championship is a tie for eighth finish at the 1988 NCAA Championship at North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., turning in a total of 1,186, which is the fourth lowest 72-hole total in school history. The Gamecocks just missed top-10 finishes in 1998 (11th) and 2007 (T-11th), with the 2007 squad setting the school record for 72 holes with a total of 1,136. Individually, former All-American Fred Wadsworth is South Carolina’s highest finisher at the NCAA Championship. Wadsworth tied for ninth in 1984 at Bear Creek Golf World in Houston, Texas.
In its first appearance since 2009, South Carolina tied for 27th at last year’s NCAA Championship with a 54-hole total of 868 (+28). NeSmith led the way, finishing tied for 38th with a total of 211 (+1). His final-round 66 matched the lowest NCAA Championship round in school history. Dykes Harbin (T-116th), Starke (T-116th), Sturgeon (T-128th) and Sean Kelly (T-144th) rounded out the Gamecock lineup last year.
The Gamecocks will tee off in the first round on Friday beginning at 7:50 a.m. CDT and will be paired with Oregon and SMU. Live scoring for the entire championship will be available through GOLFSTAT. The Golf Channel will air live coverage of the event on May 26-28.