Alabama Tries To Defend Its Turf

The nation's top-ranked amateur golfer, the University of Alabama's Michael Thompson, is among the collegiate golf elite who will gather in Birmingham over the next few days for the 2007 Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.

The University of Alabama will host the tournament for the 21st year. It will be held Monday and Tuesday, October 8-9, at Birmingham's Old Overton Club, which has been host course of the 12-team event since 1997.

"This tournament is a big part of what Alabama Golf is all about," said Crimson Tide Coach Jay Seawell.

Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the Golf World/Nike Golf College Coaches' Poll and No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. "We get a chance to host a golf tournament and bring in some of the best teams in the country to the state of Alabama. Mr. Pate has always given back to golf, college golf, and especially the University of Alabama, and this tournament is a tribute to what he has done. It's a great college golf tournament on the calendar."

Twelve teams converge in Birmingham for the tournament, beginning with a practice round on Sunday at Old Overton Club. Alabama is the tournament's defending champion, setting a school 54-hole record to win it last fall.

The 2007 field includes Alabama, Auburn, Brigham Young, East Tennessee State, Florida, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, North Carolina, Texas, Texas Tech, UAB and UNLV.

Six of the teams are ranked among the Top 25 in the Golf World/Nike Coaches poll, including No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Florida, No. 16 UNLV, No. 19 ETSU, No. 23 Texas and No. 25 Georgia State. Seven are ranked among the Top 35 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, including No. 4 Alabama, No. 10 Auburn, No. 11 Texas Tech, No. 19 Florida, No. 23 UAB, No. 28 ETSU and No. 32 Texas.

Alabama, led by medalist Joseph Sykora, won the fall 2006 JPNI setting a school 54-hole record at 819. Sykora also set a 54-hole individual record in his win, shooting 67-67-65/199 on the par 71 course.

"It should be some good golf, some really good competition," said Thompson, Alabama's senior golfer who was a 2007 U.S. Amateur finalist. "The Jerry Pate is our second opportunity to defend one of our titles from last year. We did that successfully at the Carpet Capital Collegiate earlier this year, so we look forward to going out there with a strong team, playing against good competition and hopefully successfully defending our title there. Last year at the Jerry Pate we played very well. We set school scoring records. Joseph won the tournament individually and set an individual scoring record, shot 14-under, 199 for three rounds which is fabulous. And we set some single day scoring record as the total team record, so we look forward to trying to do it again this year. The course is set up perfect for us. We'll just go out there and play hard and see what happens in the end."

The Tide hopes to successfully defend last year's title. In three tournaments so far this season, Alabama has a tournament championship, a second place finish and a fourth-place finish.

"I think anytime you're a defending champion you come back with some positive thoughts because you remember what you did last year," said Seawell, "but there's also a pressure to re-do what you did last year. And it's a different year, so you have to kind of wipe that aside. So it's a two-edge sward: you try to remember all the good things but you also try to forget about it a little bit so you can focus on what the day is. But the pressure is also because it's named after someone who was and still is a very important part of our program who we want to honor and there's also pressure in hosting your own event.

"This is another good field with six teams in the Top 25. We have a high ranking, Auburn, Florida, UNLV, UAB are all doing well and you have perennial powers like UNLV and Texas so it's shaping up as another strong field and a difficult tournament to win," said Seawell.

The five golfers who will compete in the JPNI for the Crimson Tide include defending individual champion Joseph Sykora (72.17), Michael Thompson (69.67), Mark Harrell (73.44), Gator Todd (74.78) and Matt Hughes (72.50).

"We're excited that Joseph gets a chance to defend," said Seawell. "That's an exciting time for a young person plus our team. And Matt Hughes has earned a spot so far in the lineup. He has played fantastic golf. He finished tenth at Dalton (the Carpet Capital) and 11th at The Preview and has earned a spot in this week's tournament, so we're excited he's earned a spot in this week's tournament."

The format includes 36 holes, two rounds on Monday and the final round of 18 holes on Tuesday. The first wave of tee times on Monday morning will begin at 7:30 a.m. CT with UAB, Texas Tech, Georgia Southern paired and Georgia State, Florida and Texas playing together. Alabama and Auburn are in the 8:20 a.m. CT wave. Alabama plays with UNLV and North Carolina. Auburn will play with BYU and East Tennessee State. The second round will begin around 12:30 p.m. CT on Monday afternoon. Tuesday's final round begins at 8:00. The top three tournament team leaders are in the 8:50 a.m. CT wave. There is no admission charged for this event.

A showcase for future PGA stars, past JPNI fields included Tiger Woods, who won the tournament as a Stanford golfer in 1994.

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