Shelton shines as Alabama looks to return to form
When Robby Shelton made it to Alabama, his goal was to win one tournament.
He shared the title in his first collegiate event – the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational – and hasn't looked back.
"I think I've exceeded a few of my goals," Shelton said. "After I won that one, I knew I could win another one. They just started falling one after another after that."
Shelton's success is no surprise to Alabama head coach Jay Seawell, who started recruiting the rookie at the age of 13.
"I think he's the best player in the country right now," Seawell said. "It's a good set-up for him. He's been able to come in on a really good team and get his feet on the ground. He doesn't feel like he's had to carry a load or anything like that. He's in a good situation where there's seniors in front of him that have been able to challenge him.
"I knew he was going to be a first team All-American. He's doing that by far."
The Crimson Tide carried an 11-tournament winning streak into March, but have fallen short of titles in the past three events. Shelton, the No. 2 individual in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, has been a bright spot for the team, leading the team in each of the losses. He finished his third tournament with a share of the lead at the Linger Longer Invitational in late March before falling in a playoff.
"You don't ever want to lose, but you learn lessons when you lose," Seawell said. "You can get in a result-oriented mindset, and it becomes like carrying a burden. Instead of preparing to go and getting excited about playing, it becomes carrying a burden, and it gets heavier.
"Then the tournaments are not as fun and the play is not as fun because you have a different standard on your head. Now, it's back to let's go play Alabama golf and see where we stand."
The defending national champions may have a different standard to live up to. They have placed in the top five in each of their losses, but are still looking to improve.
"It's never fun to lose, but there are times when it's beneficial to lose, and it may bring you back to the basics," senior Bobby Wyatt said. "I think we're getting back to the right stuff, and we'll be just fine.
"Some of the guys, including myself, are a little disappointed with some of the results, individually. There's definitely room for improvement, but no one is far away."
Shelton came in and made an impact among a crowded lineup. Alabama features three seniors – Wyatt, Cory Whitsett and Trey Mullinax – but Shelton leads the team in wins.
"I think any player that has success his first year has adjusted well in the college life," Seawell said. "Talent is talent. I didn't wave a magic wand on him and make him a great player. He was that when he got here."
Shelton said that leaving his family in Wilmer, Ala. – which is about a 3-1/2 hour drive from Tuscaloosa – was his toughest adjustment.
"Robby has a great family and a great family unit, and when you leave that, it's different," Seawell said. "The guys on the team have truly helped him in that process, because it's been enjoyable. It's taken away that awkward time of being away from home for the first time."
Said Wyatt: "There's a lot of stuff to adjust to ... but he's adjusted really well and real smoothly. We like to let him be himself and do what he does best. We're all friends. It doesn't really matter that he's a little bit younger. He's fit right in from day one."
Seawell said that he talks to Shelton and sophomore Tom Lovelady regularly about stepping up into leadership roles next season.
"There's going to be a void of leadership next year. That's obvious with our seniors leaving," Seawell said. "They don't have act a certain way, they just need to be more of who they are in a more vocal and leadership role. We're not asking Robby to become somebody different, we're just asking him to be put in a different light within the team. I think he'll be a great leader in his own way when the time comes."
Wyatt, who saw Shelton progress while attending his rival high school, is not worried about the freshman's future.
"I remember being about 13 and there was an 11-year-old out there making every putt, getting up and down from everywhere and beating all of us," Wyatt said. "To see him have this much success in junior golf and amateur golf is no surprise. He's been really good for a long time."