Big rebound for ’Bama after 2009-10 campaign

Alabama after winning the Isleworth Collegiate. From left: Scott Strohmeyer, Bobby Wyatt, Bud Cauley, head coach Jay Seawell, Cory Whitsett, Hunter Hamrick and assistant coach Scott Limbaugh.

Alabama after winning the Isleworth Collegiate. From left: Scott Strohmeyer, Bobby Wyatt, Bud Cauley, head coach Jay Seawell, Cory Whitsett, Hunter Hamrick and assistant coach Scott Limbaugh.

When the 2009-10 season ended, Alabama coach Jay Seawell was about as down as at any time in his coaching career.

Understandably so.

Although the Crimson Tide notched a victory at the Jerry Pate Invitational and a fifth place at Isleworth in the fall, then posted three top 5s in the spring, the season ended on a most sour note.

Alabama placed 10th at Augusta State’s tournament, and a couple of weeks later the Tide finished 12th – dead last – at the Southeastern Conference Championship. ’Bama’s season ended with a ninth-place showing at the NCAA East Regional, causing the Tide to miss the NCAA finals for the first time since 2006.

“That was definitely a big disappointment,” Seawell said. “I can’t tell you how empty I felt at the time.

“I learned a lot as a coach from that as far as dealing with different situations. I think the guys still on the team learned a lot from it as well, and I feel it’s helped change our attitude. I know the guys here now who were there last season don’t want to have that feeling again. I sure don’t.”

If Alabama keeps rolling as it has so far this spring, it’s doubtful this season’s crop of players will endure such an experience.

With two talented, experienced juniors and a pair of equally talented freshmen, it’s high tide in Tuscaloosa once again.

“The tournaments we’ve played – and especially the tournaments we’ve won – were against very strong fields, some of the best teams in the country,” Seawell said. “So to have the success that we’ve had so far is very gratifying.”

Alabama opened the fall with a victory at the Carpet Capital, then followed with a fourth at Olympia Fields and a third at the Jerry Pate. The Tide closed out October with a win at Isleworth, then opened the spring with an impressive victory at the Puerto Rico Classic.

“That last day in Puerto Rico was probably the most fun I’ve had as a coach,” Seawell said. “You had us and (No. 1-ranked) Oklahoma State and (No. 5) Georgia Tech battling it out. Players were making birdies everywhere on the course. Everyone wanted to win so bad.”

Alabama made the most birdies, putting up a final-round-best 14-under 274 to finish at 28-under 836 and beat Tech by five shots and OSU by 11.

“For a young team, I think that will help us down the road this spring,” Seawell said. “Hopefully it will give us a lot of confidence.”

Alabama, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, has four players ranked in the top 90, led by No. 5 freshman Bobby Wyatt, who has three top 5s this season and tied for fourth in Puerto Rico.

Junior Bud Cauley, a 2009 U.S. Walker Cup member, ranks 14th and finished second in Puerto Rico, and freshman Cory Whistett is No. 35. Junior Hunter Hamrick, coming off a tie for eighth in Puerto Rico, is No. 86.

“We all made an effort to put last year behind us,” Seawell said. “Our focus has been on what we can do this year.”

So far, so good for the Crimson Tide, who next play March 7-8 at the Palmetto Intercollegiate in Seawell’s hometown of Aiken, S.C. then will journey to Alpharetta, Ga., and Hawk’s Ridge Golf Club for the Callaway Match Play Championship the third week in March.

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