Play in the Central Regional began Wednesday with a practice round on the par 72 Rich Harvest Farms course in Sugar Grove, Ill. The first round will be played on Thursday, followed by the second round on Friday and the final round on Saturday.
There are 27 teams and six individuals competing in each of the three golf regionals. The top 10 team finishers and two individuals will advance from each regional to the NCAA finals.
The finals are May 30 through June 2 at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va. That field includes 30 teams and six individuals.
The other two regional sites include the East Regional at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta and the West Regional at Karsten Golf Course in Tempe, Arizona.
All five of the men representing Alabama come armed with NCAA postseason experience.
Juniors Gator Todd, Mark Harrell and Joseph Sykora are making their third straight NCAA trips as Tide golfers.
Sophomore Matthew Swan is making his second straight.
And junior Michael Thompson is new to the Tide team this season, having transferred from Tulane after it disbanded its golf program. But the 2005 All-Conference USA 1st Team and 2007 All-Southeastern Conference 1st Team member is making his second career postseason trip. Thompson qualified as an individual his sophomore season at Tulane and finished T-16th at four under par in the 2005 East Regional in Nashville.
"This is why you practice all year long, for the postseason," said Alabama Coach Jay Seawell who has coached Alabama to three straight postseason trips and four overall since becoming Alabama's head coach in the summer of 2002. "We're very excited to compete in the NCAAs. All your goals and your dreams for the year are for this week and, hopefully for the week after. We've got one step first, and that's to get through this regional, and then we can start thinking about the NCAA finals and the national championship. So we're excited. The guys are playing very well. We're going up against some great competition but I think if we play well, we can take care of our own business."
The 27 teams in the NCAA Central Regional, in order of seeding, include Alabama, defending National Champions Oklahoma State, Lamar, Texas A&M, Louisville, 2007 SEC Champions Tennessee, Tulsa, Texas, TCU, Michigan State, Minnesota, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Purdue, Wichita State, Southern Methodist, Baylor, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Sienna and Texas Southern.
"It's the hardest week of the year as a coach because all you're trying to do is finish among that top 10," said Seawell of the regional. "It's always in the back of your mind, but you're really not thinking so much about winning it as you are of finishing in the top 10. Because in your mind you're thinking, ‘all we have to do is finish in the top 10 and then we get to move on and play for the national championship.' It is a different week, and so I do think our experience will play a helpful role because when you don't understand that you can get very defensive if you're not careful. So I do think our experience will help us a great deal."
Alabama is making its 16th postseason appearance. This week marks its 11th regional trip since the first in 1991. Seawell's teams finished 20th at the 2003 East Regional in Auburn, T-6th at the 2005 East Regional in Nashville and T-14th at the 2006 West Regional in Tucson. That 2005 team, which included Harrell, Sykora and Todd playing as freshmen, advanced to the finals and finished 28th overall. Alabama's best regional finish came in 1992 in Hamilton, N.Y., when the team finished 2nd to advance to the finals which it finished 11th nationally.
Alabama is ranked No. 3 in the final Golf World/NIKE Coaches poll released today and No. 4 in the Golf Week/Sagarin rankings. In its 11 tournaments played this season, Alabama has four tournament victories, a mark that ties the school single season team championships record. It opened this 2006-07 season by winning its first three tournaments played, the Carpet Capital Intercollegiate, the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate and the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, wins that rocketed the Tide to its first No. 1 national ranking in all polls. Seawell's team set the school 54-hole record in that one with its score of 819. Its last victory came on February 20 when it opened the spring season by winning the John Hayt Collegiate Championship which was played at Sawgrass. It finished second in two other tournaments, including the SEC Championships and the E-Z-Go Schenkel Invitational. In all, Alabama has finished among the top five teams in nine of its 11 tournaments.
Thompson leads Alabama with his 72.17 stroke average, followed by Swan at 72.80, Todd at 72.82, Sykora at 73.07 and Harrell at 73.24. Thompson has four tournament career victories in his resume, all won at Tulane. Sykora collected his first individual championship this season when the Daphne native set the school individual 54-hole record at 199 en route to winning the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.
As for their past NCAA experience, Harrell finished T-21st and two-under par as a freshman in the East Regional in 2005 and T-88th in the finals, and T-32nd at the 2006 NCAA West Regional. Swan finished T-64th at even par as a freshman in 2006. Sykora finished one-under and T-25th as a freshman at the regional and 110th overall at the NCAA finals as a freshman and T-88th at the 2006 regional. And Todd finished T-25th at one under at the 2005 regional and T-127th at finals as a freshman and T-46th at two under par at regionals in 2006.