All over America – around the world, really – golf is being played on Sundays. It’s the normal completion date for the PGA and other professional tours. At local courses, the (mostly) casual games are played. For college teams, Sunday is frequently the start day for tournaments, and that’s the case for Alabama’s men’s and women’s teams this week.
The Alabama men will open their spring season in Puerto Rico, while the Crimson Tide women are playing their second tournament in New Orleans after a good start in California.
The No. 13 Alabama men's golf team will get the 2016 spring schedule underway at the Puerto Rico Classic on the 6,945-yard, par-72 River Course at the Rio Mar Country Club. This year will mark Alabama's 12th consecutive trip to Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico Classic will run Sunday to Tuesday with 18 holes played daily.
The seventh-ranked Alabama women’s golf team will be one of 17 squads, eight of which are in the nation’s top 25, competing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Championship, held on the par-72, 6,239-yard course at the English Turn Golf & Country Club.
Alabama’s women were to tee off from hole No. 1 at 9:45 a.m. CST on Sunday morning and the Tide has been paired with Arizona and Oklahoma State.
Alabama Men’s Coach Jay Seawell will start senior Tom Lovelady, junior Robby Shelton, sophomores Tyler Hitchner and Jonathan Hardee, and freshman Davis Riley. Alabama has claimed five of the last eight Puerto Rico Classic titles entering this year’s event.
“We are real excited,” Seawell said. “This is the time of the year, with the championships in the spring. Puerto Rico is something we’ve always played in because of the great weather. It gives us a great chance to practice and get five days of work, as well as competition against some great teams to get the season started. It’s always an exciting time. It’s new, it’s fresh. We’ve had the winter off so we are excited to get things started.”
Alabama is one of seven teams ranked among the nation’s top 30. Those teams include: No. 11 Clemson, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 14 Georgia, No. 16 North Carolina, No. 18 Purdue, and No. 29 Georgia Tech. Rounding out the 15-team field is Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Northwestern, UNC Greensboro, and Virginia.
Alabama has had the top individual finisher in three of the last four seasons. Former standout Justin Thomas won the title in 2012, while current members Robby Shelton and Dru Love each claimed co-medalist honors in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Shelton, who was recently named to the 2016 Ben Hogan Award Watch List, will lead the Tide into this year’s tournament. Shelton enters the 2016 spring season ranked No. 4 in the nation according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Player Rankings following a stellar fall season that saw him win two of the four tournaments he played in for the Crimson Tide. He leads 16th-ranked Alabama with a 68.83 per round stroke average..
Riley is second on the team with a 71.53 per round average, followed closely by Lovelady at 71.87. Hardee averaged an even 73 strokes per round in four tournaments during the fall, while Hitchner was at 74.44 in the three events he played.
On the women’s side, coming off the best performance of her Alabama career, senior Janie Jackson will be back in action for the Tide this weekend. The Huntsville native tied for second at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, totaling a 1-under 212 for her lowest 54-hole score. Sophomore Lakareber Abe, who fired a 1-over 214 to tie for fourth is also in the lineup, along with rookie Cheyenne Knight, who earned SEC Women’s Freshman Golfer of the Week following her 2-over 215 at the Northrop. Senior Emma Talley will compete for Alabama as well.
The Tide’s lineup will feature one change from the Northrop as sophomore Nicole Morales will make her spring debut. She appeared in one tournament during the fall, tying for 35th at The Landfall Tradition with a score of 221 (+5).
Joining Alabama in this year’s field of teams is No. 9 Arizona, Clemson, Denver, No. 12 Florida, LSU, Miami, No. 23 Michigan State, Mississippi State, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Stanford, Texas, Tulane, UC Davis, UCF, No. 3 UCLA and No. 19 Virginia. LSU won the team title at last year’s event with a 10-over 874. The Tide has not competed in the event since 2014, tying for fifth that year after shooting a 4-over 868.