The summer meant the start of something new for the Alabama Birmingham men’s golf team.
The Blazers were happy to leave their ninth-place finish at the Baton Rouge Regional behind last spring and focus on improvement as the weather heated up in the deep South.
That’s exactly what happened.
“Last year was a big disappointment for everyone. We certainly had higher expectations for the season,” said Alan Murray, UAB’s head coach. “Sometimes, when you get your ass kicked a little bit that can spur you on to work harder.
“The five guys that started every tournament, they all had great summers. Guys that had great summers tend to carry that on to the fall, and our boys certainly did that.”
Led by seniors Sam Love, Wilson McDonald and Thomas Sutton, UAB nabbed four top-three finishes in the fall and surged to a No. 10 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
Murray said that the talent was always there, his players just needed to execute. Spending busy summers playing amateur events paid off for Love and McDonald, both of whom are Alabama natives.
Love forced a playoff at the Southern Amateur, ending up with a runner-up finish, and McDonald qualified for the U.S. Amateur. Those experiences turned into a fall in which Love and McDonald recorded sub-71 scoring averages and a low round of 65 each.
But it wasn’t made putts, long drives or pure iron shots that Love remembers from the fall. It was his confidence level.
“I played pretty good in the summer, so going into the fall I felt like my game was in good shape and I was playing pretty well,” Love said. “The more confident you are, the better your performance is going to be.”
Said Murray: “The three (seniors) are super players. They’ve got great attitudes and they work hard. There’s no secret formula – they want to be good and are prepared for it.
“They know they can play. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it when it counts.”
UAB started the same five-man lineup in all four of its fall tournaments – Love, McDonald, Sutton, sophomore Martin Rohwer and junior Paul Dunne. All five of the Blazers recorded scoring averages of 71.6 or better.
But what makes UAB stand out is the makeup of its team. Five of the golfers hail from the state of Alabama and the remaining four players on roster are internationally born.
“It’s great. That’s our formula – get kids from Alabama or internationally,” said Murray, a native of Bray, Ireland. “The Alabama kids really enjoy getting to become friends with guys from all over the world. With the hospitality, the Southern welcome, the Alabama kids really take good care of the internationals and help them adjust to life over here because it’s difficult.
“Aside from golf, they’re really great kids. It all seems to click.”
Love and McDonald’s success as seniors is the result of a decision they made as junior golfers – to stay in state and call UAB home.
“Obviously, the two biggest schools here are Alabama and Auburn,” Love said. “But, when it came down to it, I knew Wilson was coming here and a few other guys that I had grown up playing golf with and it just seemed to be the best fit for me.”
Said McDonald: “We grew up playing high school and junior tournaments together, all being from the same state, so we’ve known each other well our whole lives. Sam and I have lived together three of the four years we’ve been at UAB and (along with Sutton, we’ve) all been great friends at UAB.”
Now, as seniors, the trio will have one more chance to play in an NCAA Championship.
“It’s their last roll of the dice so to speak,” Murray said. “I think the guys are a little bit more determined to go out on a high as a senior.”