When Josh Gregory was named as men’s golf coach at Augusta (Ga.) State University Sept. 16, he wasn’t sure what to expect or what response he would receive from the Jaguar players.
It had been a trying few months for the Augusta State program. First, England’s Jamie Elson, an All-American as a junior who redshirted last season, decided not to return. Next, Simon Nash, an All-American as a sophomore who helped lead Minnesota to the NCAA title last season and had indicated he would transfer to ASU, decided to stay with the Golden Gophers.
Then coach Jay Seawell left to head the men’s program at the University of Alabama.
And, under interim coach Robert Duck, the Jaguars opened the season with a 13th-place finish at East Tennessee State’s Ridges Intercollegiate.
“Sure I was a little worried coming in,” said Gregory, a four-time letterman and 1997 graduate at SMU. “Here you had a 27-year-old assistant coach taking over a well-established program. It was a concern of mine how the players would react and respond.
“But from the first time we got together I knew this was a special group of guys. We got along great and they made the transition easy.”
In Gregory’s head coaching debut, Augusta State finished second behind top-ranked Clemson at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, shooting 18 under par the last two rounds on the tough Farm Golf Club course in Dalton, Ga.
If that didn’t get people’s attention, what the Jaguars accomplished the following week certainly did.
Behind the 1-2 individual finish of Emmett Turner and Scott Jamieson, Augusta State bested a field that featured 15 of the nation’s top teams, including the top 12 in Golfweek’s preseason rankings, as it captured the 14th Ping/Golfweek Preview Oct. 8 at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
The Jaguars, who placed fifth at last season’s NCAA, finished with a 16-over-par 880, shooting a final-round best 1-over 289 in cold, rainy conditions to beat Clemson by six strokes. Arizona was a distant third, 13 shots behind at 893.
“This is a great group of guys who believe in themselves and their ability,” said Gregory, who worked the last two years under Richard Sykes at North Carolina State. “I watched them hit some big shots under the gun coming down the stretch when we had to execute. We played the back nine in 2 under. Those finishing holes here are extremely tough and even more so when you are under the pressure of trying to win.”
For Turner, a sophomore from Greenwood, S.C., it was his first college victory and came at a most appropriate time. He had been struggling with his game, finishing outside the top 30 at the Ridges and then failing to qualify for the team’s traveling squad to the Carpet Capital.
But on the demanding 7,290 yard, par-72 Karsten Creek course, site of the 2003 NCAA Men’s Division I Championship, Turner put it all together.
Turner, who last season never finished inside the top 15, opened with 74-69 and, under the challenging weather conditions, closed with a 2-under 70. Turner was the only player to finish under par over 54 holes, posting a 3-under 213.
Turner finished three strokes in front of Jamieson, a sophomore from Scotland, who closed with 73 after rounds of 75-68.
“I couldn’t be more pleased right now,” Turner said. “For me to get my first college win at a tournament like the Preview and for our team to win as well is just awesome. I don’t think it’s all sunk in yet.”
Tying for third at 217 were former U.S. Junior champion Matt Rosenfeld, a freshman at Texas, and reigning U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes, a senior at Arizona.
For Turner and Augusta State, winning the Preview should go a long way in making a statement for the “little” guys.
“A lot of people think we’re the underdogs and don’t give us a lot of credit because we’re a small school (enrollment 6,000),” Gregory said. “Our guys are out to prove they can play with the big guys. I think after what we did at Carpet Capital and certainly what we did here, shows we can. To come out here and beat some of the best teams in the nation and on a golf course like this gives us great satisfaction.”