South Carolina Golf Teams Enjoying Elite Status
May 5, 2015
Both of South Carolina’s head golf coaches are in their eighth year leading their respective programs, and both are among the nation’s elite. Women’s coach Kalen Anderson has her team ranked second in the Golfstat Relative Ranking, while men’s coach Bill McDonald sees his team ranked sixth heading into the postseason where both teams are No. 1 seeds in their respective NCAA regional tournaments. There are common threads among the two coaching staffs which have translated to success while also garnering a mutual respect.
“We’re both tireless recruiters,” McDonald said. “On the men’s side we just try to find kids that aren’t spoiled and have a little chip on their shoulder. We get some `under the radar’ kids. We’ve just been very fortunate to find very high character, hard-working, good quality kids. I know it’s the same on the women’s side. I love the women’s program here. They are really hard-working, fiery and competitive.”
“We’ve stuck to the basics and work hard every day,” Anderson said. “Having access to a lot of different facilities has been big too. Cobblestone Park (Golf Club) has been great with the access we have there, and we have access to a lot of other golf courses so you’re not just playing one every day. Add in ‘the Coop’ practice facility, and we can get a lot of work done there too. The administration has been very supportive and has given us the resources we need.”
Only one other school (LSU) currently has both of its golf programs ranked in the top 10 in the Golfstat rankings. Earlier this year the women’s team earned the program’s first ever No. 1 national ranking after winning two tournaments along with a second and third place finish in their four scheduled events during the fall season. Despite losing one of their top players in Nanna Madsen, who turned pro before the spring season, the Gamecocks continued to be one of the top teams in the country, finishing in the top four in four out of five regular season spring tournaments before taking second place at the SEC Championships.
“She was the third ranked person in the world, so it was nice having her in the lineup of course,” Anderson said. “Early in the spring we played with some pressure on us, but it was nice to get Sarah Schmelzel to return since she was injured in the fall. I tried to take some of that pressure off them and told them to just get back to playing golf and having fun. They’re playing a lot more relaxed now.”
Senior Justine Dreher leads the South Carolina women’s team with five top-five finishes this year and carries a 72.28 stroke average. The South Carolina lineup holds the program’s best-ever team season scoring average at 290.76. South Carolina has finished in the top five in 15-straight regular season stroke play events, a streak that dates back to October 2013.
My goal is to find the best players in the world. They could be five minutes down the road or 5,000 miles away, but I’m going to find them.Kalen Anderson
The men’s team was disappointed with a sixth place finish in their season opener last fall in Pebble Beach, California, where they fell out of contention for first place late in the tournament. The Gamecocks responded with a school record tying nine consecutive top five finishes, winning a school record five tournaments this year, along with a runner-up finish at the SEC Championships. Junior Matt NeSmith became the second golfer in school history to take home medalist honors at the event. Junior Will Starke leads the team with a 69.97 stroke average, and NeSmith holds a 70.07 average. Both would be the top two scoring averages in program history if the season ended today. Meanwhile, seniors Caleb Sturgeon and Will Murphy carry outstanding averages of 71.90 and 71.63, respectively. Depth on the roster with younger players challenging for a spot in the top five in the team’s lineup has also helped.
“These guys have really worked their tails off,” McDonald said. “They’ve played really strong amateur schedules in the summer, and they’ve worked hard when they’ve been in school here. They’ve just been a pleasure to be around and work with.”
The Gamecocks are on pace to shatter the school record for the second straight year with a 280.93 team scoring average. Common elements between the two programs include having the same philosophy on working on the short game and how practices are structured.
“Both of us do a lot of individual meetings with players,” McDonald said. “Being that it’s an individual game, what I’m telling one player what he needs to work on, may not be what the other guy has to work on. While there’s a big team concept going on, we both believe strongly in trying to adjust what we do to each one, individually.”
“I think we both have a very good perspective on the game,” Anderson said. “We’re very intense and competitive, but we try to take pressure off the players and create a fun environment to keep things in perspective.”
This year’s women’s team consists of a mix of international and American student-athletes, while the men’s team consists entirely of student-athletes from the U.S., with seven of the ten being South Carolina natives. Under NCAA rules, women’s golf programs can offer a maximum of six scholarships, while men’s programs can offer four and a half. Recruiting strategies may differ at times due to the economics of the two sports, but the main goal for either program is to simply bring in the best.
“We do a lot of partial scholarships, whereas women’s golf is able to give out more full scholarships I think,” McDonald said. “For us to go all over Europe or all around the world, you usually have to offer more (scholarship) money.”
McDonald also noted that while there are many talented women’s golf student-athletes in certain areas, there is a greater talent pool in the southeast region on the men’s side, which allows him to focus his recruiting closer to home.
We’ve just been very fortunate to find very high character, hard-working, good quality kids. I know it’s the same on the women’s side.Bill McDonald
“I can make a loop from North Carolina through South Carolina and Georgia, and find quite a bit of talent in that area,” McDonald said. “There may not be as many of those great players on the women’s side here in the Southeast every year. Also on the men’s side, a lot of mid-major schools will go all-in with Europeans or some of the Scandinavian countries. We do still look at kids overseas though.”
“It’s very common in women’s golf to have a lot of international players,” Anderson said. “Just look at the LPGA and the top of the leaderboards and rosters of teams who have won recent national championships. Unfortunately you are going to see very few Americans. My goal is to find the best players in the world. They could be five minutes down the road or 5,000 miles away, but I’m going to find them. It creates a good mix and creates a good culture. I don’t prefer one over the other. I will recruit the heck out of the state of South Carolina and wherever else that gives us the best opportunity.”
While their schedules don’t allow the two coaches to spend a lot of time together, they’re not afraid to pick the other’s brain from time to time.
“Ever since she came here from Duke, I’ve always been interested in what she thinks about certain things and how she handles certain situations with her players,” McDonald said. “I can learn from any coach of any sport. The thing I’ve been impressed with Kalen, is how well she communicates. She has a lot of different cultures in her program and all the kids seem to be thriving and doing well academically. That really impresses me.”
“We’re both rooting for each other,” Anderson said. “The players know each other well. There is some competition between the programs to do well. It’s great to have great players around each other. It’s great for recruiting on both sides when both teams are doing well. For the women’s side, a lot of the female recruits know we have a good men’s program too so they know there will be guys here they can practice with and do some games with. It’s another way they can push themselves to get better.”
The two coaches haven’t played a round of golf together in recent years, but just as they have had success leading their respective programs, there’s a good chance they would make a great team.
“Bill is a lot better than I am right now,” Anderson said. “He can still play really well. I can still chip and putt the heck out of it. If I could take his ball-striking, and I could putt it, we’d make a really good team. We’ve had a lot fun.”