The South Carolina senior struggled with ball-striking – normally his strength – in his previous tournament. Now, Harbin said he’s prepared for the biggest event of his collegiate career.
“I think I’ve got it figured out,” he said. “I’m ready to play again.”
The 24th-ranked Gamecocks are making their first appearance since 2009 in the NCAA Championship, which begins Tuesday at Capital City Club in Atlanta. After the 54-hole stroke play portion, the top eight teams (out of 30) advance to the match play quarterfinals Friday. The championship match will be held Sunday.
For Harbin, the lone senior in the Gamecocks’ lineup, it’s everything he ever wanted.
“We’ve struggled the past few years,” he said. “All the guys on the team wanted it as much as I did.
“If we can make it to match play, anything can happen.”
After helping lead Westside to its first state championship in 23 years in 2009, Harbin moved to Columbia. He played sparingly the first two seasons, dealing with confidence issues.
“The first few years, it was a struggle,” he said. “It was hard getting used to college golf.”
Harbin made an adjustment with his practice, focusing mostly on his short game. The change paid off. He’s played in every tournament for the Gamecocks his junior and senior seasons.
Last summer, Harbin won the Southeastern Amateur in Columbus, Ga. The momentum carried over into the fall, when he won his first college event, posting rounds of 66-72-70 to claim the AutoTrader.com Collegiate Classic.
In 11 events this season, Harbin has posted six top-20 finishes. His 72.94 stroke average ranks him second on the team behind North Augusta’s Matt NeSmith (72.85).
After a tie for seventh at the Southeastern Conference Championship, Harbin took a few days off. The layoff led to ball-striking woes at the NCAA Columbus Regional, where he shot 12-over – his second-worst event of the season. Harbin went back to work last week at Augusta Country Club.
Now that he’s got his game back in order, he said he believes he and his teammates will play well in the NCAA Championship.
“We’re just solid from top to bottom,” Harbin said. “Everybody plays well. If there’s one thing I learned about college golf, it’s that you can’t just have four guys playing well. You need all five guys.”
The 22-year-old plans to finish up his retail management degree this summer, graduating in August. He’ll play just two amateur events (Sunnehanna and the Players Amateur) before trying to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. He said he’s considering PGA Tour Q-School, but only if his game is in order late summer. His backup plan: playing on the NGA Tour in 2014.