College Men

Men's spring preview: Southern Conference

Scott Wolfes
Scott Wolfes ( Tracy Wilcox )

Sunday, February 10, 2013

If you go by sheer number of conference titles and runner-up finishes this century, the Southern Conference has essentially belonged to two teams: Chattanooga and Georgia Southern.

Since Larry Mays became head coach of Georgia Southern prior to the 2000-01 season, he’s led the Eagles to three Southern Conference championships and six runner-up finishes.

Half of those runner-up finishes have been to Chattanooga, which has won four of the past six conference titles, including last season when the Mocs beat the Eagles by 19 shots.

“We’ve gone back and forth with them over the years,” Mays said.

That trend could continue this spring as Chattanooga and Georgia Southern enter the second-half of the season ranked Nos. 42 and 51, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. The teams combined for five top-5 finishes during the fall and boast the conference’s three highest-ranked players between them – Georgia Southern’s Scott Wolfes (No. 51), and Chattanooga’s Chris Robb (No. 53) and Steven Fox (No. 86).

But for those looking for an early conference favorite heading into the spring, Mays’ Eagles might be the choice. Chattanooga undoubtedly was more tested during the fall with trips to the Carpet Capital Collegiate and Ping/Golfweek Preview. But as far as results go, Georgia Southern has the edge.

The Eagles won twice during the fall, capturing the ODU/OBX Intercollegiate and the Collegiate Classic, where they beat the Mocs by 22 shots.

“They (Chattanooga) are a good team,” Mays said. “They aren’t going to give (the title) to us. They played a stronger schedule, but we beat them head-to-head. We’re not bowing down to them and they’re not going to bow down to us. It’s going to be a battle.”

Georgia Southern opened the fall with a tough T-11 finish at the Kiawah Invitational – “Every team there kind of got kicked in the teeth a little bit. It was really tough. We brought some defeated players home,” Mays said.

But a fifth-place finish at the Mason Rudolph and then the two tournament victories turned things around. Even with a disappointing seventh at the Warrior Wave Invitational, where Georgia Southern had the lead after the first round, the Eagles enter the spring confident.

“That gave us a little bit of a wakeup call,” Mays said of the seventh-place finish at the Warrior Wave. “The guys went into the break, really worked hard and now they’re coming back hungry for the spring.”

A key lesson Mays’ team learned from that fall finale was the importance of consistency – “having all five guys in the ball game for all three rounds,” Mays said.

The Eagles already have arguably the conference’s best player in Wolfes, who won individual titles the Kiawah Invitational and ODU/OBX Inercollegiate, and then nearly won a third, finishing T-2 at the Classic.

Just a sophomore, Wolfes, who is one of just two players to win the Georgia State Junior, is providing the young team a strong leader atop the lineup. His 71.53 stroke average is tops on the squad and third in the conference.

“He’s got it all,” Mays said. “He’s a five-tool player. He doesn’t have a weakness.

“We have a good young nucleus – two of our best players are sophomores. So hopefully this will be the start of a nice run for Georgia Southern.”

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Chattanooga

Best player this fall: Scott Wolfes, Georgia Southern

• • •

Past champions

2012: Chattanooga

2011: Georgia Southern

2010: Furman

2009: Chattanooga

2008: Chattanooga

• • •

Conference capsules

Chattanooga (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 42)

Mocs, the defending SoCon champions and winners of four of the past six conference titles, posted three top-5s. Junior Chris Robb led the way during the fall, playing in 15 events, winning the Bridgestone Collegiate and posting a 71.73 scoring average, good for fourth in the conference among players with at least 10 rounds played.

Georgia Southern (No. 51)

Eagles, who finished second at the SoCon Championship in 2012 after winning the title in 2011, won twice during the fall, capturing titles at the Classic and ODU/OBX Intercollegiate. They finished second in the conference with a 292.0 team stroke average. Sophomore Scott Wolfes and Charlie Martin, and junior Hayden Anderson all logged at least 14 rounds during the fall.

College of Charleston (No. 89)

Cougars had a pair of fourth-place finishes during the fall (Kiawah Invitational and Kiawah Classic). They also got at least six rounds from eight different players, including three freshmen and a sophomore. Junior Alex Ellis and sophomore Zach Munroe posted identical scoring averages of 73.17 during the fall.

Davidson (No. 93)

Wildcats were one of just three conference teams to notch a tournament victory during the fall, winning the Waterville Collegiate Classic. They also placed third at the Firestone Invitational, but ranked second-to-last in the conference with a 300.8 team stroke average. Senior John Skeadas III won medalist honors at the Waterville Collegiate Classic.

Samford (No. 112)

Highlight of fall was a win at the Hummingbird Intercollegiate. Bulldogs also finished fifth at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate, seventh at the Pinetree Intercollegiate and ninth at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate. Seniors Casey O’Toole and Drew Aimone played in a conference-high 16 rounds during the fall.

Western Carolina (No. 120)

Catamounts finished seventh or better in five fall tournaments, including notching three top 5s with fourth-place finishes at the Golfweek Program Challenge and Wolfpack Intercollegiate, and a runner-up showing at the Hummingbird Intercollegiate. Sophomore J.T. Poston’s 71.29 scoring average led the conference among players with at least 10 rounds played during the fall.

Wofford (No. 141)

Terriers had an impressive fall, finishing sixth or better in all four fall events, including third at the Donald Ross Intercollegiate, as well as posting a conference-best 289.0 team stroke average. Sophomore Cory Taylor was second in the conference among players with at least 10 rounds played with a 71.45 scoring average during the fall.

UNC-Greensboro (No. 148)

Spartans posted a conference-worst 301.33 team stroke average during the fall, failing to break 290 in any of their 15 rounds during the fall. The young team was led by freshmen Taylor Coalson and Luke Haithcock, who each posted scoring averages in the 75s.

Furman (No. 163)

Paladins notched three top-10s with 10th-place finishes at the Raines Development Group Intercollegiate and Collegiate Classic, and a sixth-place showing at the Cardinal Intercollegiate. Seniors Anthony Aloi, Matt Brown and Johnny Kyger each played in all 15 rounds during the fall.

Elon (No. 196)

Phoenix finished a fall-best fifth at both the Donald Ross Intercollegiate and Joe Agee Invitational. They also were fifth in the conference with a 294.86 team stroke average. Junior Stuart Kaufman played in just eight of the team’s 14 fall rounds, but led the team in scoring average at 72.63.

Appalachian State (No. 202)

Mountaineers notched top-5s at the CSU Invitational and the Mission Inn Intercollegiate. Senior Josh Nichols and junior Casey Komline led the way with scoring averages in the 73s during the fall. Seniors Daniel Walsh and Jay Brown help round out a veteran-heavy squad.

Conference championship

April 21-23, Ralston Creek Course at Daniel Island (S.C.) Club

Lance Ringler's prediction

Georgia Southern. The Eagles finished the fall season with a pair of victories in their final three starts. Expect continued good play from Georgia Southern this spring and a battle with Chattanooga this spring for top honors in the Southern Conference. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.