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Golf swings up success

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For as much glamour and publicity as the other “major” sports receive, the golf team flies under the radar, even though they are annually ranked at or near the top of the Sun Belt Conference.

Since 1994, the program has produced six All-Americans and 38 All-SBC athletes. Recent history has seen South alumni Heath Slocum claim four PGA Tour victories. Fellow alumni Gareth Maybin has three victories and is playing on the European Tour.

The current men’s golf team consists of 11 athletes on scholarship who travel around the country competing with some of the best teams in the nation. In this upcoming season, their schedule is littered with Southeastern Conference competition.

Current coach and 2005 SBC Coach of the Year Ben Hannan believes this team has great potential.

“We have a very talented group of guys,” Hannan said. “When they play up to their potential, they can win anywhere.”

Four players on last year’s team were named to the SBC Commissioner’s List for maintaining a GPA of at least 3.5 for two semesters. Another six players were on the SBC Academic Honor Roll for having a GPA between 3.0 and 3.48. To have ten of 11 players maintain a 3.0 plus GPA is no small feat. Add to that the amount of work they must put into playing the sport, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of guys who better exemplify the term student athlete.

“I think the one thing people don’t realize is how very time-consuming of a sport golf is,” Hannan said.

Unlike student-athletes in other sports, golfers can’t arrive at a location, play a game, and head home all in a matter of a few hours.

A typical tournament spans two days and 54 holes. On the first day, players leave their hotels at 6 a.m. to make their early tee time and continue to play for 36 holes. This often results in ten to 11 hour days. The following day they must play 18 more holes, another six or so hours, before a winner is crowned.

Junior Blake Kelley, who has been in the winner’s circle, is excited about this year’s team.

“I’m looking forward to this season, looking forward to seeing a lot of these younger guys on the team play and develop,” Kelley said.

Kelley won individual honors at the Sam Hill Intercollegiate Tournament last September and helped the team to a second place finish by shooting a personal best round score of 64 and a 54-hole total of 204.

Sophomore Lane Hulse was one of the four named to the SBC Commissioner’s list last season. As a freshman, Hulse shot a 5-under par 139 total to garner a second place finish and catapult South to a win at the Bancorp South Intercollegiate hosted by Ole Miss.

Hulse is also optimistic about this season.

“We struggled at the end of the fall season,” Hulse said. “But we’ve put in good work in the offseason, and I’m excited about playing good teams week in and week out.”

This golf season is already underway with the team having competed in the Gator Invitational in Gainesville last weekend. On Feb. 20 and 21, the University will host the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate with the likes of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Illinois competing, among others, at Magnolia Grove Crossings Golf Course.

Written by Patrick Herring | Staff Reporter

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