Whitsett leads Alabama to Isleworth title

Alabama after winning the Isleworth Collegiate. From left: Scott Strohmeyer, Bobby Wyatt, Bud Cauley, head coach Jay Seawell, Cory Whitsett, Hunter Hamrick and assistant coach Scott Limbaugh.

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WINDERMERE, Fla. – He waited patiently, eagerly, as teammate and fellow freshman Bobby Wyatt – he of 57 fame – guided Alabama to a victory and two high finishes this fall. This, it turns out, was Cory Whitsett’s week. At long last the left-handed, smooth-swinging Texan entered the fold for Alabama, and the Crimson Tide now roll into the winter brimming with confidence – and believing this season could yield a national title.

Alabama opened and closed the fall with victories, holding on for a two-shot win over LSU on Tuesday during an unseasonably warm, wind-swept final round at the Isleworth Collegiate. That junior Hunter Hamrick, playing in the final pairing, made double bogey on 18 came as little surprise. This was a day for survival, a day in which Tide coach Jay Seawell applauded a 13-over team score.

What mattered in the end was that this was win No. 2 for Alabama, following an emphatic victory at the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate.

“We’re wanting to get into that national-championship picture, to get into that conversation,” Seawell said. “We’re not going to get it because we want it. We’ll get it by showing it against fields like this.”

Indeed, a victory on this stage will cause other teams from around the country to take note – even if the triumph came against depleted NCAA contenders such as Oklahoma State and Stanford, whose best players (Peter Uihlein and David Chung, respectively) were in Argentina preparing for the World Amateur Team Championship.

Having Whitsett as the low Alabama player only made it sweeter for the Tide. Dogged the past two summers by a repetitive-motion injury in the lower-right part of his back, Whitsett came to Isleworth toting a lightweight carry bag and plenty of questions about his swing, his recent form, his past results.

He closed with 73 Tuesday – good enough for a T-5 finish, his first top 10 of the season – to pace Alabama to a team score of 20-over 884.

“Cory had a slow start to the season, but I’m really proud of him,” said Seawell, whose team is No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. “I think that’s what we really need for him, is to get some confidence.”

He now should have plenty of that.

After a fall dominated by talk of Wyatt – who after shooting 57 in a junior tournament this summer has a pair of top-4 finishes in four college starts – Whitsett finally got in a rhythm and showed that he, too, isn't far from making a dramatic splash for the Tide this season. Both players have yet to finish an event outside the top 20.

“Those guys aren’t freshmen,” Hamrick said. “They’re just good golfers. It’s amazing how fast they’ve settled in.”

“They’ve played in a lot of great events and competed against the best their whole lives – and been winners their whole lives,” Seawell said. “They’re not what you call your normal freshmen.”

Wyatt (73) and Whitsett (73) were the low scorers Tuesday on a day when the typically steady Hamrick shot 79 and former Walker Cup member Bud Cauley managed only one birdie on his way to a 77. After a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 15th, Scott Strohmeyer closed with two late birdies to post 77. Seems every week, a new team leader emerges.

“That’s the dynamic we have on this team,” Whitsett said.

LSU could have used a similar late-round surge.

The Tigers, No. 13 in Golfweek’s rankings, entered the final round four shots behind Alabama and pulled to within one as they played the closing stretch. But Sang Yi chipped over the green and into the bunker with his third shot on the par-4 finishing hole, leading to a double bogey, and LSU fell just short of capturing consecutive team titles.

“I’m sure they expect more from themselves,” LSU coach Chuck Winstead said, “and for them to go to the next level, they’re going to need to play a bit better than they did today.”

Same could be said for Stanford, which never mounted a final-round charge en route to a 19-over 307 in the final round, leaving the Cardinal in a tie for third with Florida, 10 shots behind.

The No. 3 Gators received a big boost from senior Bank Vongvanij, who was one of two players to break par on Tuesday on his way to claiming medalist honors at 4-under 212. Vongvanij shot a final-round 68 to top Tennessee’s Robin Wingardh (75) by two shots.

Pre-tournament favorite Georgia, playing at full strength and coming off a rousing win at the Brickyard, tied for 11th in the 15-team field.

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