South Carolina’s Bill McDonald talks Pullman regional, perseverance of senior Will Miles

South Carolina Athletics Communications and PR

South Carolina’s Bill McDonald talks Pullman regional, perseverance of senior Will Miles

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South Carolina’s Bill McDonald talks Pullman regional, perseverance of senior Will Miles

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Bill McDonald saw this coming. It’s roughly 150 miles to Myrtle Beach from Columbia, South Carolina, and about 160 miles to Athens, Ga. But that would be too easy.

It’s far more likely, McDonald thought, that the third-seeded Gamecocks would be sent more than 2,600 miles away to Pullman, Wash., for NCAA regional action.

“I hate to say I’m clairvoyant,” McDonald said, “but I kind of called it.”

And so South Carolina kept a light-hearted attitude about heading to the southeastern tip of Washington. The five Southerners in McDonald’s lineup got in a practice round in nearby Idaho before settling in at Palouse Ridge Golf Club.

NCAA regional action kicks off at six sites around the country May 13-15, and the Gamecocks aren’t the only Southeastern team in the Pullman field. No. 2-seeded Georgia Tech and Florida (No. 8) also look to become one of four teams who advance out of Washington to the NCAA Championship in Fayetteville, Ark.

South Carolina coach Bill McDonald. (South Carolina Athletics Communications and PR)

Nothing about the fall season was particularly impressive for McDonald’s squad. Prospects didn’t look any better after Ryan Hall, a freshman who posted three top-20 finishes in his first semester, fell of a skateboard and nearly broke his wrist in three places. An embarrassed Hall was afraid to tell McDonald for a week. Hall spent time this spring in a cast and underwent some serious rehab before playing for the first time in April as an individual at the Wofford Invitational, where he finished second.

When the Gamecocks began their spring season at the All-American Intercollegiate in February, McDonald felt their fourth-place finish was mired by sloppy play.

He told his seniors that they needed to step it up in practice and hold the team accountable with their wedges.

The team flipped a switch the next month at the Palmetto Intercollegiate, where the Gamecocks won by a staggering 35 shots. South Carolina posted a new school and tournament record of 27-under 813 and senior Will Miles collected his first collegiate win in memorable fashion, finishing 13 under – T-2 lowest 54-hole score of all-time at South Carolina – to win by nine.

SCORES: Pullman | Stanford | Athens
SCORES: Louisville | Austin | Myrtle Beach

“I kind of went nuts there,” Miles said.

McDonald just wanted his to team to get in contention at a tournament. After Palmetto, he readjusted the goals. The Gamecocks went on to win two more times in the spring, finishing five consecutive events in the top 3. McDonald kept readjusting.

“I think you don’t get that a whole lot in our business,” said McDonald of the bar moving that substantially during the course of one season.

McDonald has called this the most unified team he’s coached in his 13 years at South Carolina.

That needed it after the Gamecocks’ momentum didn’t carry on at SEC Championship. McDonald made the difficult decision of pulling junior Jamie Wilson from the lineup for regionals to bring back a more consistent Hall, the freshman now known on the team as “Tony Hawk.”

“If we need a really low round or solid round,” said McDonald, “that’s just what the odds are with him.”

LIVE BLOG: Keep up with the regional action

Miles, a senior from Hilton Head, knows what Wilson must be feeling first-hand. He was bumped from the lineup with one tournament to go as a freshman. That 2016 team made it to match play at NCAAs.

Miles used the disappointment as motivation. He also knows about overcoming the uncomfortable, having been diagnosed with lymphedema as a young boy, a condition that causes his legs to swell.

South Carolina’s Will Miles. (South Carolina Athletics Communications and PR)

Miles wears compression garments under his pants every day and compression boots at night. He travels with a machine that he puts on for an hour a day that’s designed to reduce the swelling.

“I have to bring an extra bag,” he said of traveling. “It looks like I’m moving in each week.”

Miles went on to win the Southern Intercollegiate in April for his second career individual title. Thirty-six hole days are particularly tough for him to recover from. He’s been hospitalized several times with cellulitis and is more susceptible to infections. McDonald said Miles never talks about it or complains.

“I think he just looks at is as his routine,” said McDonald, “manages his time around it.”

One area that Miles said he has improved on this season is his attitude, something McDonald has been on him about since freshman year.

“We put a lot of effort into our body language,” said McDonald of the team. “Nothing drives me more crazy than these guys missing a 3-footer and throwing their arms up and flailing around.”

The Gamecocks are ranked 11th by Golfweek heading into regionals and Miles – one of three seniors in the lineup – leads the team with a 70.68 scoring average and No. 29 ranking. Scott Stevens (70.71) and Ryan Stachler (71.20) round out the talented senior trio.

Miles said the team believes they can make a deep run at the NCAA Championship, but they’ll have to get there first. Georgia Tech gets sent to the West Coast for regional play on a regular basis now and are ranked No. 2 in the country. Top-seeded Oklahoma, the 2017 NCAA champions, is ranked No. 9 by Golfweek, and there are plenty of West Coast schools ready to strike on semi-home turf.

“The ceiling on this team still hasn’t been met yet,” said McDonald.

It’s no wonder that expectations continue to rise.

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