In the first of our breakdown of the country’s 30 best men’s college golf squads, we begin with the Gamecocks of South Carolina:
30. South Carolina
2011-2012 Golfweek rank: 54
Go-to-guy: Dykes Harbin
Season outlook: The eighth-place finish at last season’s NCAA Southwest Regional left a bad taste in the mouths of South Carolina’s players. At least that’s what coach Bill McDonald is hoping.
“To not be successful and have guys coming back having experienced it, that can do nothing but help,” McDonald said. “You want them to carry that hunger over.”
The Gamecocks also finished sixth at the SEC Championship and failed to win a tournament during the regular season. But with four of five starters returning and a strong recruiting class, things could change immediately. South Carolina did lose Wesley Bryan, but returns senior Dykes Harbin, a fixture in the lineup who played in all 12 tournaments last season, and sophomore Caleb Sturgeon, a player McDonald said is “about to take off.” Add them to U.S. Amateur qualifiers Blaine Woodruff, a junior, and Dean Hester, a senior, and the Gamecocks figure to be a contender in the SEC this season.
The wild card is freshman Matthew NeSmith, who ended his junior career ranked No. 1 by Golfweek. McDonald started recruiting NeSmith when the South Carolina native was an eighth-grader. NeSmith is a physically gifted athlete with a knack for winning big tournaments – he won the FootJoy Invitational and the Rolex Tournament of Champions this summer.
“It’s funny because I’ve been waiting for him to get here and he’s finally here,” McDonald said. “With him and Will (Starke, another heavily recruited freshman), this is definitely the best recruiting class I’ve had and maybe the best ever for South Carolina.”