Men's notes: Vandy, Limbaugh off to good start
As an assistant for five seasons under Jay Seawell at Alabama, Scott Limbaugh learned a lot about building a successful college golf program.
Helping coach a Tide team that boasted players such as Bud Cauley, Hunter Hamrick and Michael Thompson during his tenure, Limbaugh was a part of a pair of SEC and NCAA Regional championships, 20 team tournament titles and four NCAA Championship appearances, including last season when Alabama finished as the national runner-up.
“I learned a lot working for Coach Seawell,” Limbaugh said. “I learned how to manage a program and how to lead a program, but most importantly he taught me what building a championship program is all about.
“Jay does a great job of coaching each player. I had a chance to be around a lot of great players at Alabama and there was always a different button to push to motivate each guy.”
Now in his first season as head coach at Vanderbilt, Limbaugh is looking to repeat the success he had at Alabama. And so far, he’s pushing all the right buttons.
The Commodores won the Mason Rudolph Championship Sept. 23 and followed that win – the school’s first since a joint title at the Samford Intercollegiate in March 2010 and first outright win since March 2009 – with a second-place showing at the Jack Nicklaus Invitational Oct. 9.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Limbaugh said. “We’ve been working really hard. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m focused on what we can do to get better daily. I try to keep our guys from being so result-oriented and get them focused on controlling their game and finishing strong.”
Vanderbilt showed that great closing ability in Dublin, Ohio. After ending the first day in a tie for seventh place, the Commodores stormed back to finish T-2. It’s that closing mentality that Limbaugh hopes becomes his team’s identity.
“That [finish at the Nicklaus] was the one that excited me more,” Limbaugh said. “It really showed the character of our team. We were resilient and I define resilient as what you do when things don’t go your way?
“We didn’t play well the first day and we didn’t handle adversity very well. In the second round we did our job, played hole-by-hole, shot-by-shot, and I was very pleased with how they handled themselves.”
Limbaugh may sound like a broken record when he stresses the importance of focusing on each shot. But that’s what works. That’s what worked at Alabama. And that’s what has worked so far in Nashville.
Vanderbilt ended a streak of two NCAA Regional appearances last season with a ninth-place performance at the 2012 SEC Championship. Three tournaments into Limbaugh’s first season and the Commodores already have the look of a team that will fare much better this season. The play of Hunter Stewart (2nd at Mason Rudolph, T-4 at Nicklaus) has boosted the team, as well.
“All these guys are sponges right now, hungry to learn and be pushed,” Limbaugh said. “Hunter is one of those guys that has reacted to me really well. When you’re playing these tough courses and looking for leadership, he’s been that guy for us.”
Vanderbilt now will get arguably its toughest test yet when it plays in the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational Oct. 21-23 at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, Fla. The The field features some of the nation’s top programs, including defending champion Texas, Alabama, California, Florida and New Mexico – all of which are ranked in the top 10 of the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
“A strong finish [at Isleworth] would be huge for our program,” Limbaugh said. “With the results we’ve had so far, these guys are starting to believe in themselves. I notice their chests are out a little more when they walk around carrying their bags. That means something to me and it means something to these guys.”
Limbaugh’s visit to Orlando will also mark the first time he’ll face his former team.
“Those are guys that I recruited and I haven’t seen them since I left,” Limbaugh said. “I’m excited about seeing them and I’m sure they’re excited to see me.”
They’ll also get a chance to see what Limbaugh has done in his short time with a Vanderbilt team that finished 14th out of 15 teams a year ago at Isleworth and entered that event with eighth- and 12th-place finishes. The Commodores enter this year’s event ranked 14th by Golfweek.
Limbaugh will be the first to admit, though, that he’s not ready to make any predictions when it comes to how his team will do come the spring. The results have been great so far, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement for this Vanderbilt squad, and Limbaugh knows that.
Now, it’s about continuing to keep focus, continuing to get better each day and, for Limbaugh, continuing to press all the right buttons.
“We’re climbing a mountain right now,” Limbaugh said, “and I don’t think there is anybody on this team that thinks we’ve gotten to the top yet.”
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ISLEWORTH FIELD A GOOD ONE: The Isleworth Collegiate Invitational will take place for the eighth time Oct. 21-23 at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, Fla., and defending NCAA and tournament champion Texas will attempt to become the tournament’s second three-time winner – Georgia has won the event four times.
The Longhorns cruised to a 26-shot victory last season as then-freshman Jordan Spieth claimed the individual title by eight shots. Repeating that performance might be difficult, though, with five of the top 10 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings expected to compete, including 2012 tournament champion Alabama, as well as Florida, New Mexico and California.
Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt are also in the field and ranked in the top 14 by Golfweek.
It would be a surprise if Texas ran away from this field and a much closer competition is expected this time around.
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GOSS HONORED: Northwestern men’s golf coach Pat Goss was awarded the Labron Harris Senior Award, which is given to the college or high school coach and PGA professional “whose support of the game through teaching, coaching and involvement in the community has helped ensure the continued growth of the golf and who represents the finest qualities the game has to offer.”
Goss, who is in his 17th season with Northwestern, is also a member of the Illinois PGA section.
“It’s a great honor to win an award based on one of the all-time great college coaches in Labron Harris,” Goss said. “He had such an impact on college golf, and in his dual role as a PGA professional helped grow the game and made it possible for so many to enjoy the game.
“What makes this award stand out to me is that for any individual to have a chance to give back and help grow a game that has given us so much and that we love makes it even more special. When I look at the list of previous winners, I’m humbled to be included among them.”