ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Augusta State golf coach Jim Kelson says his 17th-seeded team, a five-time winner this season, must elevate its game even higher in the NCAA Golf Championships.
What better place to do that than Albuquerque, where the elevation is a dizzying 4,958 feet above sea level. That's in contrast to Augusta, which is 414 feet above sea level.
When the 30-team, 72-hole championship begins today at the University of New Mexico's Championship Course, Kelson will learn how high his team can climb college golf's biggest mountain.
"We have to play our very, very best golf," Kelson said. "I think our kids realized after the East Regional, `Gosh, you've got to elevate to such a high level."'
Augusta finished ninth in the East Regional with a respectable 2-over-par 866 for the 54 holes. However, the winner, Georgia Tech, beat Augusta by 31 shots.
"We got waxed pretty good by those guys, but that's golf," Kelson said. "The last time we played them this season, we beat them."
The Jaguars arrived here Sunday and played practice rounds Monday and Tuesday at the 7,166yard Championship Course. The first thing the Jaguars noticed about the course was the patchy rough, which measures between four and six inches.
"We never get to play anything like this," said Kelson, who calls the course a "good test of golf."
The first order of business for the teams today and tomorrow is to make the 36-hole cut. The top 15 teams advance to the final two rounds. Also, the top nine individuals on teams that do not make the cut will stay on the for the weekend.
"We're not thinking of the cut too much," said Augusta captain Vaughn Taylor. "Our goal is to win. If all of us have a good week, we have a chance to win it. If we just try to make the cut, most likely we won't play that well."
In Augusta's previous three NCAA appearances, the Jaguars finished 13th in 1993 then missed the cut in 1994 (finishing 30th) and 1995 (23rd).
"This is my best team," said Kelson, now in his seventh year with the school. "That 1993 team was an awfully good team. The team isn't head and shoulders above that. When you have a team that makes the cut like that one in 1993, you don't have a good team, you have a fantastic team. It's so difficult to make the cut."
Augusta is led by Taylor, the lone senior on the team. He's joined by Robert Duck, one of the top freshmen in the country, junior Jeff Keck and sophomores John Wells and Chris Roake.
"This team has worked their tails off and they've got some talent," Kelson said. "I think they can compete with the very best."
"We're totally ready," Keck said. "Our golf games are ready and mentally we're ready. We're going to go out and give it our shot and see what happens."
No matter what happens this week, Kelson won't ever forget this team.
"Every year at the our banquet, I've said `this is the best group of golfers I've ever coached,"' Kelson said. "I fudged a little bit. If I coach 30 more years, I'll never say I had a better group than this one. They have conducted themselves with total class. They have done everything right every single day. And I appreciate it."
Kelson wasn't counting on his team making it to the nationals this year.
"At the start of the year I was hoping we might have an outside shot of going," Kelson said. "I didn't know that Robert Duck was going to play as well as he has. Vaughn Taylor has kicked it up a notch. They've all had just a great work ethic."
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