Men's Spring Preview: SEC
During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the spring season for each conference. Today, we look at the Southeastern Conference:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: Alabama
• Player to watch: Trey Mullinax, Alabama. Mullinax has been No. 1 for most of the fall. Will he hang on and win Alabama's second Haskins Award in three years?
• Freshman to watch: Robby Shelton, Alabama. Shelton has filled in nicely and is ranked 11th by Golfweek.
• Conference championship: April 25-27, Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside), St. Simons Island, Ga.
• Past champions (since 2009): Alabama (2012-13), Florida (2011), Georgia (2009-2010)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
• Alabama (No. 1): The Crimson Tide have been the best team in the country since last year’s championship run. Alabama has won its past 10 tournaments, including all four of its fall tournaments by a 12.10 average. Seniors Trey Mullinax, Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt are the main reasons for much of the team’s success. Freshman Robby Shelton filled in the team’s 4/5 spot for most of the fall and replaced Tide standout Justin Thomas, who has turned professional.
• Texas A&M (No. 5) : Runner-up finishes at the Dick’s Challenge Cup and the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate highlighted the fall season for the Aggies. Sophomore Ben Crancer performed like a Haskins Award finalist by picking up a victory and another top-10 finish in three tournaments. Ty Dunlap and Andrew Lister also contributed to the Aggies' success.
• Georgia (No. 7) : The Bulldogs won the Dick’s Challenge Cup and finished runner-up at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. They never finished outside the top 4 in five fall tournaments. Senior Joey Garber won his first collegiate tournament, at the Kiawah Classic, and added two other top-5 finishes. Lee McCoy, Michael Cromie and Nicholas Reach recorded scoring averages lower than 73.00 for the fall.
• Vanderbilt (No. 19) : Won the Osprey/Eagle Intercollegiate and finished fifth at the Dick’s Challenge Cup. Team was led by Hunter Stewart, Matthias Schwab and Charlie Ewing. Schwab picked up a win at the Carmel Cup and finished second at the Osprey Intercollegiate. The Commodores can improve from a seventh-place finish in last year’s SEC Championship.
• South Carolina (No. 24) : Won the Badger Invitational and the Kiawah Classic, and also finished in a tie for second at the Rees Jones Invitational. Sophomore Matt NeSmith posted two runners-up in the fall and added a T-4 at the Rees Jones. Junior Caleb Sturgeon won the Badger. Will Strake and Will Murphy solidify the lineup. The Gamecocks are looking for a solid five-spot player to compete.
• Arkansas (No. 25): The Razorbacks won the Crooked Stick Intercollegiate. Senior Sebastian Cappelen and sophomore Taylor Moore showed why this team can compete with the best. Cappelen and Moore had two top-5 finishes along with junior Thomas Sorensen. Kolton Crawford played in all five tournaments. If Blake Biddle, a transfer from UNLV, gets his game back in order, look out for Arkansas.
• Auburn (No. 28): A second-place finish at the Wolf Run Intercollegiate highlighted the fall. The team placed fifth at the Jerry Pate and struggled at the U.S. Collegiate with an 11th-place finish in the 15-team tournament. Sophomore Jake Mondy led the Tigers with top-5 finishes in the Carpet Capital and Wolf Run tournaments, but senior Niclas Carlsson provided the most consistency, compiling a team-best 71.75 stroke average. Freshman Matt Gilchrest posted a 72.33 average. The Tigers are still looking for a solid No. 5 player.
• Kentucky (No. 35): The Wildcats had two third-place finishes, at the Wolf Run Invitational and the Kiawah Classic, and added fifth-place showings at the Northern Intercollegiate and the AutoTrader.com Collegiate. The team fields a solid starting five in Harrison Greenberry, Cody Martin, Stephen Powers, David Snyder and Ben Stow. Among the five, they have combined for five top-5 finishes and seven top-20s in the fall. The Wildcats have nowhere to go but up from their last-place finish in the 2013 SEC.
• LSU (No. 37) : Juniors Stewart Jolly and Curtis Thompson lead the Tigers. Both played in the all four of the team’s tournaments this fall, and Jolly broke through with a victory at the Golfweek Conference Challenge. The team’s best finish came at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. The Tigers will need more out of senior Andrew Presley and sophomore Zach Wright to make a run at the SEC title.
• Tennessee (No. 46): The Vols' best finish came at the Dick’s Challenge Cup (fourth). Sophomore Oliver Goss, who was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur, led the Vols with a 71.08 stroke average and two finishes of sixth or better. Freshman Jack Smith averaged 72.41 strokes during a consistent fall. Senior Brandon Rodgers and sophomore Chad Merzbacher added a top-10 each. The team is young, with mostly freshmen and sophomores, and will need to grow up soon to contend in the SEC.
• Missouri (No. 51) : The Tigers started the season hot, with victories at the Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate and the Columbia Regional Preview. It shows that they can contend. Senior Emilio Cuartero won the Columbia Regional Preview and finished as the low Tiger in four of the five fall tournaments, compiling a 70.8 stroke average.
• Mississippi State(No. 56): The highlight of the fall came at the Sam Hill Intercollegiate, where the Bulldogs finished second. Joe Sakulpolphaisan won the Sam Hill. MSU will need more consistent finishes individually to post higher finishes.
Florida (No. 77): The losses of Tyler McCumber and T.J. Vogel have really hurt the Gators this fall. The team’s best finish was a tie for third at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate. Juniors J.D. Tomlinson and Eric Banks lead UF.
• Mississippi (No. 82) : The Rebels tied for third at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate to highlight the fall. Junior Blake Morris finished with a 70.33 stroke average and led Ole Miss in four of five tournaments.