ATHENS, Ga. — The obituaries for the Augusta State golf team in 2012 were pretty much written before the engraver was finished carving the consecutive milestones on the NCAA trophy last June.
There was essentially nothing left of the Jaguars as soon as the celebrations ended after defeating Georgia to win back-to-back national championships. The five players who defeated the Bulldogs a day after upsetting top-ranked host Oklahoma State were all graduating or turning pro. The head coach was cashing in with a new school.
However, not all of the DNA from those championship teams was gone. One of the principle players from that breakthrough squad in 2010 is still around to bristle when he reads the expert opinions in Golfweek magazine and finds only one of eight panelists predicting that Augusta State can make it past the NCAA Athens regional.
“Yeah, they wrote us off, but that’s not really surprising,” Taylor Floyd said on Thursday after tying his lowest round of the year with a critical 67 at the University of Georgia Golf Course. “Even after we won back-to-back nobody really ever said, ‘Damn, this team is good.’ They said we showed up in match play and played better that day. That’s a mentality we’re used to at a school like ours so it’s just extra motivation for us.”
Floyd, a senior from Macon, Ga., is the only remaining Jaguar who was present for both NCAA victories. He was a major part of the first one, winning a pivotal match against Florida State despite being on the brink of passing out with the flu.
Last year he flew out to Oklahoma before the final match with his father, Rusty, to cheer on his teammates as they took down a loaded Georgia squad. It was a bittersweet moment for a competitor aching to be playing instead of watching.
“It was neat to get to be around all the guys and experience that even though I wasn’t playing,” Floyd said. “It still was nice just to be there. It’s not the same as playing, but it was awesome to be able to watch.”
Floyd’s championship mettle was on display Thursday at UGA when his Jaguars needed him most. Augusta State got off to a wretched start, falling to 5-over and in next-to-last place so fast that Floyd had yet to even tee off. By the time he made the turn, the Jags were still floundering and looking ready to prove all the critics right.
“I kind of saw when I made the turn that we were not off to that great a start, so it was just a little extra motivation to go to the back nine and try to throw some birdies on the scorecard,” Floyd said.
Floyd birdied five of his last 12 holes to shoot his 67 that kept the Jaguars within reach of the top five spots that earn a trip to the NCAA Championships at Riviera Country Club.
Augusta State sits in seventh place of the 13-team field at 1-under 283, but the Jaguars are only one shot behind Houston and UNC Wilmington in the all-important fifth spot.
“Taylor played phenomenal,” said first-year head coach Kevin McPherson, the assistant who took the reins after Josh Gregory left to coach at Southern Methodist. “He’s been the leader we needed him to be this year.”
That was not an easy transition for Floyd to make. He was struggling in the fall without all of the familiar faces that had defined his time at Augusta State, and he went home to Macon moping about his plight.
“It was tough adjusting,” Floyd admitted. “New guys. New coach. It definitely was a different feel. Spend three years traveling with basically the same three or four people so it was a little tough getting used to that.”
Idle Hour Country Club pro Ray Cutright, who has been teaching Floyd most of his life, got in Floyd’s ear and told him to get back to Augusta and do what he needed to do for the program and for himself. He returned and steadily has improved as the season gets closer to the most important stage.
Floyd tied for third in the Insperity Augusta State Invitational at Forest Hills, where the Jaguars took No. 1 Texas to a playoff, and he picked up where he left off in Athens.
“These guys kind of proved themselves at our home tournament playing against the No. 1 team in the country,” McPherson said. “We were able to compete against the No. 1 team and that showed these guys were capable of playing against the best. We used that as a bit of a confidence boost.”
Along the way, Floyd has let go much of the disappointment from last season when a thumb injury and swing tweak combined to keep him off the squad that traveled to the NCAAs.
It was a bitter pill for someone who got such a rich taste of it the year before.
“Last year was probably the toughest that I’ve seen him go through anything,” said his father, Rusty Floyd. “But it was a great learning experience. It taught him he had to work harder.”
“It was hard,” Floyd admitted. “I was more disappointed in myself. I injured my thumb in the spring and didn’t really get the work in to get back like I needed to. Got a little lazy, so I was mad at myself.”
Now Floyd is trying to lead a new cast of teammates back for another chance to prove all the doubters wrong. It would be a great accomplishment for Augusta State to back up everything it achieved the previous two seasons.
“He never believed all that,” said his father of the people who long ago wrote Augusta State off this season. “He told me, ‘We’ve still got three other people who can play pretty good when we get to clicking. We can get this done.’ It would be the icing on the cake for his career.”
It would certainly be a great personal satisfaction for Floyd to get the chance he missed out on last season.
“I’m just trying to play good golf and get better, but there is a little bit of a chip on my shoulder to try to get back,” he said.