Georgia men poised for super season
Mark down last season as an aberration for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Although coach Chris Haack’s team did notch three tournament victories last year – including the SEC Championship – and finish No. 13 in the final Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, it was what the Bulldogs didn’t do that hurt the most.
After tying for fifth at the NCAA Southwest Regional, Georgia lost to Baylor on the first playoff hole and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship. The last time the Bulldogs did not qualify for college golf’s season finale was 1996-97, Haack’s first year at the helm.
Before the first shot was hit last fall, Haack had lost three players on whom he was counting. Patrick Reed transferred to Augusta State, Will Kropp transferred to Oklahoma and second-team All-American Hudson Swafford underwent shoulder surgery in August and redshirted, missing the entire season.
“Sure, last season was a bit of a disappointment,” Haack said, “but at the same time we had a multitude of things happen. We had our share of low points and high points. Now we just have to put it behind us and move on.”
With Swafford healthy and joining returning fellow seniors Russell Henley and Harris English and sophomore Bryden Macphearson, an Australian who arrived in Athens in January, the Bulldogs should regain their usual bite in 2010-11.
“We have three solid players at the top of our lineup,” said Haack, whose team tied for sixth at the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate. “The key to our success will be getting good support from the Nos. 4 and 5 slots. If that happens, I feel we possibly could go a long way.”
Henley, who won four titles last season, including the SEC and Southwest Regional, leads the charge. A first-team All-American and Golfweek’s Player of the Year last season after finishing No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, he continued his success over the summer, tying for 16th and sharing low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Henley also posted top-12 finishes at the Porter Cup, Southern Amateur and Dogwood Invitational, and helped lead the U.S. to victory in the Palmer Cup with a 3-0-1 record.
Despite those results, the Bulldogs’ premature postseason exit leaves a bitter taste.
“Last season didn’t end on a good note,” Henley said. “But I think we’re all excited about this coming season. Having Hudson back is huge because he can take it real low on any given day. I really feel we are capable of winning the whole thing.”
For English, who finished No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, missing out on the NCAA finals was “the most disappointing thing in my college golf career.”
He said that he and his teammates are using that as motivation.
“Everyone is working hard to get better and looking forward to the season,” English said.
Perhaps no one more than Swafford, who seems to be back in form. This summer, he qualified for the U.S. Open (where he missed the cut by a shot), tied for fourth at the Northeast Amateur and tied for 10th at Porter Cup.
“It was tough sitting out last year, but I think it’s going to work out for the better,” he said. “I’m excited and fired up. I think everyone on the team is the same way.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Russell and Harris again. I feel we have a lot of potential. We just have to make sure we keep our intensity at the highest level.”
Thanks to the pain of a missed NCAA Championship, that shouldn’t be a problem.