SE Louisiana showing international flair

There are a ton of college golf programs out there featuring foreign players. Some lineups, in fact, go from top to bottom with international competitors.

Still, one would be hard pressed to find a more widespread, worldwide assortment of such talent than the men’s current roster at Southeastern Louisiana.

Yes, the little town of Hammond, La., and this mid-major university has attracted players from Colombia, Chile, France, South Africa, Sweden and Germany.

And, this mix-and-match group of talent has done quite well for itself.

“You definitely can say we are a very international bunch,” said SE Louisiana head coach Tim Baldwin, now in his 22nd season at the Lions’ helm. “The thing is, there is a lot of very good young players all over the world and we try to bring in the best ones we can.”

This season’s lineup features two freshmen from Colombia, Daniel Zulanga and Sebastian Garcia; seniors Cedric Scotto of France and Rasmus Astrand of Sweden; junior Horacio Leon of Chile; and sophomores Rhys West of South Africa and Philipp Westermann of Germany.

“They all get along pretty well,” Baldwin said. “Usually, getting through the first year is the hardest, getting comfortable in a new environment, adjusting to school and sometimes struggling with learning English. But we have some great advisors at our school and all the guys on the team help each other in any way they can.

“The bottom line is they all know we are here together for a common goal of getting a degree and playing the best golf they can. They all want to work hard, improve and give themselves an opportunity to play in the (NCAA) postseason,” said Baldwin, whose team last season won the Southland Conference Championship, but finished 11th in the NCAA East Regional at Yale Golf Club to fail in its quest to advance to the NCAA finals for the first time since 1998.

“I always emphasize the team golf concept,” Baldwin said. “I want to make sure they understand the big picture of college golf and what it means to get into the postseason.”

Being a senior, Scotto certainly knows where his coach is coming from.

“We’re getting down to our last few tournaments, so it’s really getting to be crunch time,” said Scotto. “Our goal is to get into the regionals and then play well enough to get to nationals. I feel we have some very good players and right now we’re just trying to get it all together.”

The Lions were No. 64 in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Only twice in the past 10 years have they finished the season out of the top 100 and in 2009-10 they finished with their best-ever showing at No. 43.

“We try to keep ourselves in the top 50 and I feel if you can keep within the top 75 you’re always knocking at the door,” Baldwin said. “We pretty much play a regional schedule, but it’s a good enough schedule to get you there (postseason) if you play well.”

SE Louisiana had a decent fall season with three top-6 finishes in four starts, including a second at Squire Creek and a third at the Sam Hall Invitational.

The spring has been a bit up-and-down with a fifth at the Louisiana Classics and third at Louisiana Tech sandwiched between a seventh at Oak Hills and sixth at Arkansas Little Rock.

“We played well in the fall, but have been a little flat this spring,” Baldwin said after the UALR tournament. “I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet. We still have some work to do, but only a couple of tournaments left (before conference) to do it.”

The Lions showed a little more roar earlier this week, finishing third at Ole Miss’ weather-shortened (36 holes) Bancorp South tournament, but nine shots off the pace of winner South Alabama. The high note was Westermann, who scored his first victory of the season, shooting 6-under-par 138, one stroke better than South Alabama’s Lane Hulse.

“I don’t know how long its been, but I know it’s been a while since we did not win at least one tournament in a season,” Baldwin said. “The one thing we take pride in here at Southeast Louisiana is winning golf tournaments.”

The Lions have two more opportunities to make that happen before regional invitations go out. They next play at the Jim West Invitational in Victoria, Texas, April 10-12, and then defend their title at the Southland Conference Championship, April 25-27 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’re just waiting for our moment to happen, when we can all put it together over an entire tournament,” said Scotto, who, like the rest of his teammates says he’s adjusted well to his new surroundings in the U.S., and especially Cajun cuisine which he says is “really good, for sure.”

But it is crunch time and in college golf, whether you’re American or an international player, you know what that means. You know this is the time you have to be at your best if you hope to extend your season to the middle of May or beyond.

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