Both Joey Garber and the Georgia Bulldogs seem to be flying under the radar this season, although their Golfweek rankings say otherwise.
Garber is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin college individual rankings with five top-5 finishes in seven starts, while the Bulldogs team is ranked fifth.
As for Garber’s success this season, it didn’t come as a surprise for the senior from Petoskey, Mich. It was all about being healthy for his last year of eligibility.
In December 2012, Garber had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff that would keep him out for the rest of the 2012-13 regular season. He came back in time for the 2013 NCAA Tempe (Ariz.) Regional and NCAA Championship, but admits that he didn’t feel 100 percent healthy until 10 months after surgery.
Finally, his golf game was back in order.
In the fall portion of this season, Garber recorded three top-5 finishes, including his lone collegiate victory at The Invitational at the Ocean Course in October.
“It’s nice to be healthy,” Garber said. “I feel like (there’s) a lot more stability and strength, not only in my repaired shoulder, but in the rest of my body.”
He continued his strong play this spring and has recorded two other top-5 finishes, also holding the No. 1 spot in the Golfweek rankings since the first week of March.
Sitting out for most of last season actually helped Garber, who stands at 5 feet, 9 inches. While in rehab for his shoulder and watching his teammates play week after week, he started to understand the game in a way he has never seen it before.
“It made it easier for me to get back out there,” Garber said. “I saw how they (my teammates) were giving shots back or they didn’t need to hit that shot there. I worked on managing mine and how to take care of the golf ball.”
That’s a big reason why he’s having great success this year.
Georgia head coach Chris Haack agrees: “He learned a lot by watching the other guys, and understanding how to manage your game, and how by having a good positive attitude can help. Joey has a fiery spirit and sometimes it’s his own worst enemy.
“He learned by watching and he has really improved that aspect of his game.”
With possibly three more tournaments left in the 2013-14 season, the goals are simple for the Bulldogs, Garber says – both an SEC Championship and NCAA Championship are on the minds of the three graduating seniors.
But with more than a month until SECs and no official tournaments scheduled, Haack still wanted his team’s competitive juices flowing. So on Thursday, the team will make a trip to Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., for a practice round before playing in the one-day Met Intercollegiate in Purchase, N.Y.
Then, a week prior to the SECs in Sea Island, Ga., Georgia will play a four-team match-play event at the site of last year’s NCAA Championship with in-state rival Georgia Tech, Florida State and Auburn.
“I think we have just been slowly getting a little better and we’re having a good solid year,” said Haack. “We’ve been competitive and we always felt like we had a chance to win.”
The Bulldogs have two team titles this season, and Garber believes more are on the horizon.
“I think that at this stage in the game, it’s huge to have a lot of confidence,” Garber said. “I know I have faith, and the other four guys that will tee it up have faith, and that’s huge (to win). We’re clicking right now on all cylinders. That’s pretty dangers when we keep that attitude and see where it takes us.”