The NCAA men’s regionals have been announced, and teams are making travel plans. Today, we catch up with Whit Turnbow, the head coach of Middle Tennessee State, to discuss his team’s chances, postseason ideas and other randomness in Wildman’s Corner.
Question: Coach, I heard you had a “March Madness”-like party yesterday for the call announcing regionals?
Answer: We had 50 people or so of players, administrators, people close to our program and local news that came over about a half hour before the call. We had food catered – that’s what I do best is eat – and we had a good time. All we can do is listen in to the call to hear and find out who was in and who was out and where they were sending us. We had a great time.
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Q: You guys were in the last regional announced, which was the West. Did you start to get a little nervous when after five regionals you still hadn’t heard your name called yet?
A: I did, actually. I kept noticing people looking at me nervously, and I started to wonder, ‘Oh boy, are we going to get called?’ All I could do is just put on a smile and nod, assuring people, ‘Don’t worry, it’s coming, it’s coming.’ San Diego was the last one read, and through about the first two schools being announced I started to figure out how much the trip was going to cost me to get out there and back.
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Q: Not to jinx you or the team, but you have UCLA and Texas at your regional, and after that it seems like it’s seven teams battling out for the final three spots. What are your thoughts on the regional and on the competition you will be seeing?
A: The first thing that came across my mind was how good of a draw it was for us, because that’s the same course we won the Callaway Match Play on. Although I only have one player left from that team that won on the course, it is at least familiar to me, so we don’t need to do that much homework on the course. That will be a good thing, to just go out and playing as to opposed to worrying about scouting a course for the first time. I thought it was a great draw for that aspect, and the field I haven’t taken a hard look at just yet. Those seedings right now, Asher: You can take them out and throw them out the door at this point. It’s going to be a matter of who comes to play. It doesn’t matter if you’re the 1 seed or the 13 seed; it’s all about coming to play for three days and just being able to get through.
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Q: You have had an up-and-down season, but now it’s crunch time. Do you think your team is ready for postseason?
A: They are. We have had some ups and downs. Like any season, there are flows of ups and downs. We have finals and the school year behind us. We have been fortunate enough to concentrate solely on our game. We’ve had some really good practice sessions, and not having to worry about finals or papers is a great thing. Last night, when we heard our name called on the phone, I wish you could have seen the looks on some of their faces. I have three or four freshman that have played for us this year, and to see their faces when our name was called on the phone gave them some confidence and a lot of smiles ready to go. When the tournament begins, we will be ready to go!
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Q: During the season, you want to win every tournament you play in, but how difficult is it for a coach come postseason time? At regionals, it’s just about finishing in the top 5, and at nationals, it’s all about being in the top 8. Do you feel like it’s a trap?
A: That’s the trap you have to be careful of, I think. You have to know it’s there, and I tell my guys all the time at an event that you can’t win an event after Round 1 but you sure can lose. I think my guys know that, but the goal is to win. You still have to be aggressive and go out and make birdies. You still have to do what you got to do to go out and try to win a golf tournament. Now, obviously, things can change the last day of a regional, if you have put yourself in a good position. We might have guys play a hole a little differently. From the outset, it’s about winning, but if you finish second, that’s fine. If your goal coming in is just to finish in the top 5, then you set yourself up to come just short of fifth, usually.
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Q: Coach, let’s say you make it to nationals, and after 54 holes you’re in the top 8. One big talking point about match play is the rivalries. If you are in the top 8, whom do you want to take on?
A: Man, that’s a loaded question. Man . . . gosh, you know the one team we would want to face – I would probably have to take on one of my friends – so I’ll go with Josh Gregory and Augusta State. He’s a good friend of mine, and that’s a great program he’s built, plus to take on the defending national champions would be really neat. It wouldn’t matter at that point, though. It wouldn’t matter. If we make it that far to put ourselves in that position, then it could be you and (Golfweek’s Lance) Ringler and some of your folks, so we could try to bash your brains in, too.
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Q: You don’t want any of this “ginger,” or Mr. Eight Ball (Ringler). I’ve seen him putt. Balicki . . . well, you can have that point. Finally, from me, though: If you could change the championship format, would you, and what would you change?
A: I think the stroke play is the only way to determine the best team. It’s the format we play all year. I’m somewhat of a fan of the match play because it gives some more teams a chance to win it all when you start talking about match play. It’s a different type of golf. Not to diminish any part of the match play; I’m just more of a fan of a stroke-play championship, which was a format I didn’t think was broken. Stroke play or match play, it’s all about the best team that day is going to win, and that’s been the case the past couple of years. It has been the team that was hot and playing well down the stretch that wins every year. Stroke play or match play, that’s always going to be the case, and I could go either way with it.