April 19, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. -
Western Carolina opens play in the 78th-annual Southern Conference Men's Golf Championship this weekend, teeing off in the first round on Sunday, April 20 at the par-72, 7,122-yard National Golf Club in Pinehurst. The three-round, 54-hole championship event features 18 holes per day, concluding on Tuesday, April 22. It is the first time since 1980 that the SoCon tournament returns to Pinehurst, and the first time it'll be hosted at the National Golf Club.
The winner of the SoCon Championship will garner the league's automatic bid to a NCAA Regional while the individual medalist will also earn an automatic regional qualification should his team win the event.
Practice rounds for the championship tournament are scheduled for Saturday with a shotgun start beginning at 3:00 pm. WCU's scoring five will be teamed with golfers from Wofford and will open with set tee-times between 8:00 am and 8:40 am on the front nine. The lineup each subsequent day will be set by the standings with the final round starting with tee times on both the front and back nine.
National Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course which features wide fairways, lush course conditions and undulating putting surfaces that test golfing ability.
"Although our overall result at the Wofford Invitational last week wasn't satisfactory, we did find many positives and were able to pinpoint areas that needed the most work," said first-year head coach, Bryant Odom. "Thanks to the Easter break we have had some extra time on the course and range. We have ramped up our practice routine in preparation for the Southern Conference Championship."
Headlined by junior J.T. Poston, Odom and the Catamounts will take the same lineup which competed at the aforementioned Wofford Invitational last weekend to the conference finale. Poston will be joined by former high school teammate, junior Matthew Turner, and redshirt junior Collin Witiak. The trio of upperclassmen will be flanked by sophomore Tyler Lail and true freshman Nont Panayanggool.
Three of WCU's golfers - Lail, Panayanggool and Turner - are making their first-ever appearances at the conference championship. Poston leads the squad into the finale for the third time in his career looking to build upon a pair of 10th-place ties in his first two trips, while Witiak is also making his third trip to the conference event, finishing in a tie for 40th one spring ago.
"The current lineup is statistically the strongest five players of the season and gives us the best shot at contending for the title," Odom said. "J.T. (Poston) is eager to cap off his amazing season with a conference title, while Collin Witiak competes in his final tournament as a Catamount before graduation."
Poston, a SoCon All-Freshman team selection in 2012 and All-SoCon team member in 2013, enters the championship weekend a full two-strokes ahead of the second-place golfer, UNCG's Carter Jenkins, 70.11-to-72.11, in season stroke average. His 70.11 is on pace to be a school single-season record. He is ranked sixth in the latest Golfstat Cup standings, and is eighth overall in the Golfstat statistics.
All told, a combined 22 of Poston's 27 seasonal rounds have been shot even-par or better including the first eight-straight of the fall which included six rounds in the 60s.
A product of Hickory, N.C., Poston has seven, top 10 finishes this year including the first three individual medalist honors of his collegiate career - each coming in the fall portion of the schedule. His strong play this year earned him mentions on the watch lists for both The Ben Hogan Award and Haskins Award, as well as consideration for the United States Palmer Cup team. This season, Poston has moved atop WCU's career stroke average leader board, by-passing two-time SoCon individual medalist, Matt Cook (72.11), with a 72.03 career scoring average.
Lail enters the championship event ranked second on the Catamount squad with a 75.73 seasonal scoring average. The Conover, N.C., native posted a season-best, 21st place finish at the home, Hummingbird Intercollegiate, hosted at the beautiful Country Club of Sapphire Valley back in November. Turner, who has averaged 77.05 on the season, tallied his best finish of the season at the same event, placing in a tie for 17th.
Completing WCU's scoring five are Witiak (77.17) and Panayanggool (78.00).
Four of the 10 teams in the league enter the 2014 SoCon Men's Golf Championship ranked inside the top 100 in the latest Golfstat rankings. Georgia Southern holds a No. 47 ranking with UNCG (59), Chattanooga (64) and Davidson (100) among the rankings. UTC has won the last two conference tournaments, and has claimed five of the last seven overall dating back to 2007. Furman leads the way with 13 team titles all-time.
Last year, Chattanooga held off a late Davidson charge to win the title by two strokes. The event will see a new medalist as the 2013 title was claimed by Josh Lorenzetti of former conference member, College of Charleston, ahead of a three-way tie for the runner-up spot. Two of those runners-up return this year in Davidson's Todd Eckstein and UNCG's Taylor Coalson, who shared SoCon Freshman of the Year honors with Lorenzetti.
The Southern Conference Men's Golf Championship has been played every season since 1933, aside from a four-year hiatus during World War II. The event boasts past champions such as Arnold Palmer (1948-49) and Brad Faxon (1983).
WCU has had three individual medalist all-time at the SoCon tournament including two-time winner, Matt Cook (2006, '08), with Bruce Kullman (1991) and Kelly Leonhardt (1987) all winning top honors. The Catamounts have never won the team championship, placing second back in 1986 with a pair of third-place finishes in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009. WCU is one of five teams in the league that has never won the SoCon championship, with the three all-time medalists fourth among active members.
The Catamount men's golf program is also one of only four SoCon teams to have made a NCAA regional appearance, earning an at-large team bid in 2008.
The tournament tees off at 8:00 am on Sunday and fans can follow all of the action with live scoring through GolfStatResults.com.