Tide changes at Alabama after loss of key seniors
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Eight wins. Fifty-nine top-fives. Ninety-eight rounds in the 60s. Two national titles.
That's all that was missing when Jay Seawell gathered the 2014-15 Alabama men's golf team for its first meeting.
Something was a touch off for Seawell, who's preparing to coach his first team without Trey Mullinax, Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt in four years.
"They're special people who did special things for Alabama. There are many things they did that will be dear to my heart forever," said Seawell, who is in his 13th year at Alabama. "But that's what makes college golf great. We only have four-year contracts with them, at best. There's turnover and I'm excited about this new challenge. I think we can be pretty good in April, we just have to find the confidence and identity of this team."
Unlike a season ago, the Crimson's Tide's identity won't be founded in Walker Cups, senior leadership and collegiate wins. But Seawell is far from hopeless as the season begins Friday at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Rocky Face, Ga. His team faces a field that includes host Georgia Tech, Auburn and South Carolina.
"The last time I looked, those three guys aren't playing. So we are going to be different," Seawell said. "I think we all understand that they cast a very large shadow and a good shadow. We're not going to run from what they did. We're very proud of that.
"But this is a different team and ... we have to find a way to play golf and practice with a clean slate instead of carrying what other people of done."
Finding a new identity means finding new leaders. Seawell may not have to look any further than his 2014 national championship team, where sophomore Robby Shelton and junior Tom Lovelady played key roles.
Shelton, the No. 2 player in the 2013-14 Golfweek/Sagarin Individual Rankings, was statistically one of the best players in the country last year as rookie, and Seawell will tell you that he was the best. He stepped in as a freshman and led his three senior teammates in scoring average, posting a 70.10, and won two events.
But that's where the experience ends.
Outside of Lovelady and Shelton, only two players logged a round last year – Gavin Moynahan (9) and Robby Prater (6). There are zero seniors on the roster.
Seawell expects good things from Moynihan, who will miss the first tournament of the year playing for his native Ireland in the World Amateur Team Championships, Sept. 10-13. Freshmen Jonathan Hardee and Tyler Hitchner and sophomore Dru Love, son of Davis Love III, will step in and start alongside Lovelady and Shelton in Georgia.
Alabama sealed its second-straight national championship with a 4-1 win over Oklahoma State in the match play final at Prairie Dunes Country Club. The lone blemish on the scoreboard belonged to Lovelady, who fell to Oklahoma State's Wyndham Clark 3 and 1.
But even in defeat Seawell finds a silver lining for Lovelady, who will be expected to play a leadership role this season.
Lovelady battled back from being 5 down through 11 holes, winning Nos. 12-14 and cutting Clark's lead to two. That's the player Seawell wants to see this year.
"That stretch, from 11 to 17, you could see him grow as a player. I think his mind and confidence will round out a lot," Seawell said. "He has the chance to really break out and be a star.”
Said Lovelady: "I made the turn and realized that I'm not out of it. Match play is all about momentum. I'm still learning about the whole emotional part, but that was really big (for me)."
He's spent the past three years, one of which was a redshirt season, picking up on cues from the seniors that have moved on. Now he's expected to step up as an upperclassmen.
"I've always had someone older than me being around. It's a different feeling," Lovelady said. "The added competition (the three seniors) brought to every practice helped me more than I realized.
"I'm excited. We will be a good team."
Lovelady posted a 72.67 scoring average last season; his best finish was a seventh-place showing at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.
That's a far cry from the All-American efforts of Mullinax, Whitsett and Wyatt, but Seawell isn't looking for three clones to replace his all-star trio.
What he saw in that meeting room wasn't exactly clear, outside of the fact that it's a new team. But he’ll find out a little more this weekend in Georgia.