Nobody but repeat winner Alabama went home from the NCAA Championships at Prairie Dunes happy, but four local golfers returned from Kansas inspired by the experience.
Georgia freshman Greyson Sigg, South Carolina sophomore Matt NeSmith and Kennesaw State juniors Austin Vick and Kelby Burton all reached the championships with their teams. While none of them fulfilled their team or individual goals, each believe they learned something valuable in their collective disappointment.
“It was really cool to see how we stacked up against everybody,” said NeSmith, the North Augusta player who posted only one counting score in three rounds as the Gamecocks missed qualifying for the final-eight match play by one stroke. “I struggled, of course, but the team played well and still had a chance to be right there. It was a good week for the team, but it showed me a lot that I have some stuff I need to work on before summer kicks off.”
Georgia won its regional and went to Kansas as a high seed expected to contend for the title, but the Bulldogs fell behind early in the weather-plagued 54-hole stroke play and finished tied for 11th, five strokes shy of advancing.
“We were all trying to come from behind and maybe pushing ourselves a little harder than we should have,” said Sigg, the former Richmond Academy standout who shot 70, 73 and 79 for the Bulldogs. “Not realizing that our score wasn’t that bad, looking at it now, we didn’t have to go crazy low like we kind of thought I guess.”
Kennesaw State reached the NCAA Championships for only the second time in school history, but the experience was new to the senior-less squad. The Owls finished 26th of the 30 teams in the finals, the same overall result as 2011. Vick, from Greenbrier, finished the best of all the locals in a tie for 89th at 8-over par while Burton, from Lakeside, tied for 136th.
“We all worked really hard this past semester and we all knew we were capable of making it through the NCAAs and finally accomplishing that,” said Vick, who was runner-up in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. “It may have overwhelmed us just a little bit, but we all knew we had the talent to compete and play well. Just didn’t get off to the start we were hoping for and all the rain delays and stops didn’t help very much.”
While Kennesaw had realistic expectations based on inexperience, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks had reasonable hopes of contending through match play. The Bulldogs had three seniors but couldn’t get untracked while the Gamecocks were situated inside the top eight until the final few holes.
“That’s been our M.O., our Achilles heel all year long, it’s been finishing rounds as a team,” NeSmith said. “It kind of had that feeling (in Kansas) that it was going to get really close. We’re a really good team and if we can learn how to finish rounds we’ll be a heckuva team. Everyone always wants to blame themselves that I could have done this or that. But we learned a lot this whole year. It’s everybody’s fault. We win as a team and lose as a team. That’s how we are.”
NeSmith, who will compete with Vick in the Palmetto Amateur next week, believes South Carolina’s future is brighter with everybody back and several heralded newcomers next year.
“I’m really glad everybody is coming back,” he said. “It’s going to be really competitive. I think we’re going to be extremely good.”
Vick feels the same way about Kennesaw and thinks the Owls could surprise everyone the way Augusta State did twice in 2010-11.
“I know we have a championship team and know we can do some big things here,” Vick said. “The school’s growing and the team’s growing. We all have trust that coach (Jay Moseley) has got some good guys coming in next year who will make this team even better. I think we’ve got a really good shot at it.”
Sigg, whose next competition is the Augusta Country Club championship next week, will have to assume a bigger leadership role for the Bulldogs.
“I had a talk with (coach Chris Haack) about it and he said we’ve got to step up,” Sigg said. “I think we’ve got a good chance. We lose those three guys who were a huge factor for this year’s team, but we’ve got other guys who can shoot some low scores. Hopefully some people stand up next year and do good.”
All four players came away from Kansas with valuable lessons learned. The biggest thing they all took away is that in a championship chase every stroke adds up.
“I definitely learned that every single shot counts,” Sigg said. “We played pretty bad, in our eyes, that round one and two and we missed match play by five shots. You can look back and count five shots that were given away like that. Hopefully I’ll end up getting better. It’s tough for even a senior, but it was definitely tough for me and a good experience, so next time I’ll be more prepared for it.”