OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – If North Florida leaves The Honors Course on Thursday without a Friday tee time, nobody will think twice. The Ospreys have had a very good year and will finish the season ranked in the top 25.
But if UNF finds its way into the top eight after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying at the national championship, it might be a very tough out. The Ospreys got off to a good start Tuesday in Round 1 of stroke play, finishing at 4-over 292 to tie Kent State for the second-best score in the morning round. Arizona State led at 2-under 286.
“We think we are better than most people think we are,” UNF fifth-year coach Scott Schroeder said. “Those big-name schools, we are not scared of them.”
North Florida has been in the same field many times this year with some of the nation’s elite programs and has more than held its own. In 13 tournaments, the Ospreys have recorded 11 top-5 finishes.
One reason for the growth of Schroeder’s team, oddly enough, can be attributed to the absence of its best player. Sean Dale missed three events this spring due to injuries.
“A couple guys really stepped up in that process, and that has probably helped us get to where we are today,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder was quick to mention freshman Kevin Phelan, the Ospreys’ No. 2 player, as one who has taken a leadership role. Phelan, No. 102 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, has a stroke average of 72.11 and leads the team in number of sub-par rounds, with 17. Phelan and Dale, ranked 21st by Golfweek, each posted even-par 72s to start the NCAA Championship.
For a team that made the move from NAIA to Division II in 1993, and then to Division I in 1997, having a chance to be recognized on college golf’s biggest stage is quite an accomplishment.
Don’t look past this group. The Ospreys know they belong here yet have no expectations.
“Just come and play,” Schroeder said. “Go do what we do and have fun.
“We think if we can make match play, we think we have a chance to beat any team.”
That’s how it works now at the NCAA Championship. With match play being added to this championship last year, the door has been widened and just about any team that gets through has a chance to win it all.
Including North Florida.