The Daily Gamecock

Men's golf eyes SEC tournament title

Gamecocks motivated by late-round loss last year

Breezy conditions and fresh cut greens await the South Carolina men’s golf team as they travel to St. Simons Island, Ga., for the SEC tournament.

The Gamecocks have been gearing up for the tournament all season and are getting ready to compete for a conference title.

“It’s our conference championship, so it speaks for itself,” head coach Bill McDonald said. “We have, arguably, the best conference in the country, and if that doesn’t get you fired up to play for a conference title, I don’t know what will.”

Prior to this weekend’s tournament, the Gamecocks have finished in the top three in four of their last five tournaments. They are looking to keep that momentum going in Georgia.

“I think it’s been a really good year and we’ve done a really good job of preparing each week,” McDonald said. “Each player has taken ownership of his own game. I fully expect them to do that this weekend, and it shouldn’t be any different than what we’ve done in the past.”

In last year’s tournament, the winner was decided over the last nine holes, with South Carolina falling short to then-No. 2 Alabama.

The team is using that nail-biting loss to help motivate them to stay focused on their goal.

“I think we all have to be patient. We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” McDonald said. “Last year, the people in the afternoon put up some low scores, so we went out the next day trying to do to the same, but in reality, we didn’t. We just have to stick to our game plan and not worry about what anyone else does.”

The No. 24 Gamecocks will face seven teams ahead of them in the rankings in the SEC tournament, including the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

“The SEC is a very strong golf conference, and we know we can play with any team out there,” sophomore Will Starke said. “We had the lead on the 16th hole going into the last round last year. We can win, so I think we have to go out there and play our best.”

Since the team is competing against top-notch teams, McDonald said, patience will be the key to success. He said he doesn’t want his team to go after flagstaffs aggressively and miss the hole completely.

If they don’t, he said the team has a good chance of contending for the title.

“The biggest thing is to be patient and get a couple good rounds under our belt,” McDonald said. “It gives ourselves a chance in the last round. There is nothing like being in contention in the last round like we were last year with nine holes to play.”

After finishing second last year and more quality performances this year, the Gamecocks are expecting a good weekend at the tournament.

The team took time off after their last tournament and returned to the course this week to get ready for the staunch competition they will be facing.

“It all starts with preparation,” Starke said. “I think everybody took some time off after we got back from Easter, but now we are practicing hard, and I expect everyone to have a good week.”

McDonald has cautioned his team, however, that an “off week” could mean a drop in how the team finishes, since they are playing in such a tough conference. He told the story of how Florida, then the ninth-ranked team in the country, finished 10th in the conference tournament last year.

That is a scenario he hopes the Gamecocks don’t expose themselves to this weekend.

“You never know,” McDonald said. “We have the kind of conference where if you have an off week, you could not finish real well. I expect the guys to be near the top five, possibly the top three if they play well. And I think if they play really well, we have a chance to win.”