Impressive Field

The third-ranked University of Alabama golf team will try to win an unprecedented third straight tournament championship when the Crimson Tide plays host to the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate next week at Birmingham's Old Overton Club. Play will include the first two rounds on Monday and the third round on Tuesday.

The field, considered annually as one of fall's biggest events on the collegiate golf calendar, features five Top 25 ranked teams. Alabama, winner of both tournaments it has played so far this fall, is the highest ranked team among the field of 12. The Tide is No. 3 in this week's Golfweek rankings and No. 7 in the Bridgestone Golf Coaches Association of America rankings. The field includes Auburn, UAB, Arizona, Brigham Young, East Tennessee State, Georgia State (coached by former Alabama golfer Matt Clark), LSU, Purdue, Texas, Texas Tech, and Tulsa.

In this week's Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, Georgia State is No. 3, Purdue No. 9, ETSU No. 13, BYU No. 24, Tulsa No. 39 and Auburn No. 40. In the coaches' rankings, BYU is No. 10, Georgia State No. 19, ETSU, No. 20 and Arizona No. 25.

The tournament, which is open to the public and charges no admission fee, is a showcase of future PGA stars. Tiger Woods won the individual championship and led his Stanford teammates to the team championship in 1994. In fact eight JPNI medalists are currently playing on the PGA Tour, including Mike Heinen (1989), David Berganio (1992), Ron Whittaker (1993), Tiger Woods (1994), Rory Sabbatini (1997), D.J. Trahan (2001 co-champion), Hunter Mahan (2001 co-champion), and Bill Haas (2003). And those are just the medalists. The field has also included, among other PGA players, Dicky Pride (Alabama's own), Stewart Cink, Ryuji Imada and Notah Begay, III. Begay, Woods and Casey Martin were among the Stanford team that won the 1994 JPNI as well as the 1994 NCAA championship.

"The Jerry Pate, year in and year out, is one of the great tournaments in college golf," said Alabama head coach Jay Seawell. "We're excited to be hosts. Mr. Pate's name is on there, and we're the host team, so that makes it special. It's a big tournament to me, personally, also. Besides the SEC's and NCAA's I think it's the most important tournament we play in because we're the hosts and also because it's got Jerry's name on there. To win this tournament, which we've never done, you've got to play great. You've got to play great because the other teams in it are so good."

This is the 20th anniversary of the tournament which was first played in 1986 and is named for and run by former Tide golfer Jerry Pate, a U.S. Amateur winner while he was a Tide golfer. Pate is now playing on the PGA's Champions Tour after a successful career that included championships (notably the United States Open) on the PGA Tour.

Alabama, on paper, will be among the favorites to win the JPNI. Alabama opened the season in September by finishing 23 under par to win the team championship at the Carpet Capital Classic, a tournament that featured a field of 18 teams, half of whom were ranked among the nation's top 25. The Tide followed that win a week later by claiming the championship at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate.

"What I'm excited about is how we've played the first two weeks," said Seawell. "With two wins, you're going to get a high ranking when you do that. But I'm more proud of how we won. The first week we won what I'd call pretty. We played very, very well. And in the second week we played a little bit ugly but we still found ways to win. So when you win, good things like the polls and rankings come with it. The reason I'm proud of our ranking is because that means we've done something on the golf course."


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