Three fall victories have Alabama rising in the ranks
By Ron Balicki
Tuscaloosa is about 225 miles from Alabama’s coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
Nevertheless, the city that’s home to the University of Alabama has experienced its own version of a high Tide this fall. It came in the form of the Crimson Tide men’s golf team, which has reached heights never before reached in the program’s 55-year history.
With three victories in three prominent tournaments to start the season, Alabama climbed to No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings for much of the fall season, as well as in a pair of coaches’ polls. The Crimson Tide fell to No. 5 in the final Golfweek rankings of the fall following a seventh-place finish in Hawaii.
“I’m very excited for our program and for our players,” said Alabama coach Jay Seawell, now in his fifth season at the school after several years at Augusta State. “It’s an honor and shows their hard work is paying off. When we came here, that’s what we wanted to do, take this program to No. 1 in all the rankings.
“Doing what we did this fall is a tribute to all the men who have played golf throughout the years at Alabama. They are the ones who have built this program and helped lead the way to where it is today.”
Coming into the season, most figured Alabama would field a decent team. Though the Tide didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championship finals last season (they tied for 14th at the NCAA West Regional), four solid players were returning from a team that finished 31st in the Golfweek/ Sagarin Rankings and had seven top-5 showings, including a third place at the Southeastern Conference Championship.
But ’Bama’s start to this season certainly has exceeded expectations.
Propelling the Tide have been senior Thomas Hagler, who redshirted last season, along with sophomore Matthew Swan and juniors Gator Todd, Mark Harrell, Joseph Sykora and Michael Thompson, a transfer from Tulane.
Alabama opened the season with a victory at the Carpet Capital Classic in an 18-team field that featured 13 top-25 teams. The Tide followed with a triumph at Shoal Creek, marking the program’s first back-to-back titles since 1981.
The Tide then made it three in a row at its own Jerry Pate National Invitational – the first time a ’Bama team has won three titles in one season since 1972, when it won four times. With a school-record 33-under 819 total, the Tide won by seven shots over Texas Tech. In addition, Sykora, who secured one of two open spots in a team qualifier, made his season debut with a victory, the first individual title by a Tide player since 2004.
The streak came to an end at the Bank of Tennessee at The Ridges, where Alabama finished fourth. The Tide closed their fall campaign over Thanksgiving with a seventh-place finish at the Aloha Purdue Invitational in Kauai, Hawaii.
“I think it’s great what they are doing,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack of the Crimson Tide. “I’m sure there are some who are surprised, but I don’t think it’s that big a surprise to any of us in the SEC. We all knew they would be a good team this year. Jay has done a great job building that program, and what they’ve done this fall certainly adds to the credibility and strength of our conference.”
Seawell hopes the Tide can continue to rise all the way to Williamsburg, Va., where this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Championship will be played May 30-June 2 at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s Gold Course.
“We’re only halfway there now,” Seawell said. “While it (was) exciting and wonderful to be No. 1, the one that counts the most comes at the end of next semester.”