Bama Aims High In NCAA Regional Tourney
Top-ranked Alabama is one of 27 teams and six individuals comprising the field at the May 15-17 NCAA Men's Golf Central Regional. Alabama is the No. 1 seed in the regional and the No. 3 seed overall in the NCAA Championships. Georgia is the top seed overall and the No. 1 seed in the East Regional. USC is the two seed overall and the top seed in the West Regional in Bremerton, Wash.
The Central Regional will be held in Columbus, Ohio at the Ohio State Golf Club's Scarlet Course, a par 71 course with a layout of 7,419 yards for this tournament. The top 10 teams and two individuals from teams that don't make the cut will advance from each regional to play for the national championship. The team finals are hosted by Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., May 28-31. That final field will feature 30 teams, 10 from each regional, and a total of six individuals.
"I don't think you change anything," said Alabama head coach Jay Seawell of his team's approach to the regional when asked if the team will go to place and gain a berth or go to win. "You go out and you do the same things you've been doing. You play the best you can and try to win. If you try to place then you're asking for trouble."
Alabama and Charlotte, the two seed in the East Regional in Chattanooga, Tenn., co-lead the nation in team tournament championships this season. Both have won six, including their respective conference championships. Alabama claimed its second Southeastern Conference Championship in school history on April 20, snapping the 29-year-drought since its last league golf title in 1979. Alabama's tournament victories this season have also included, in order, the Carpet Capital Collegiate, the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, the John Hayt Intercollegiate, the Puerto Rico Classic and the Schenkel E-Z-Go. In head to head team competition, Alabama has a 112-12 record this season.
The Tide's six team wins is a school record as is its 810 score, the lowest 54-hole total in school history, it shot to win the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate. The team finished 42-under par to win the JPNI amidst a field where half the teams were ranked among the nation's Top 25. Four different Alabama golfers have won as well this season in a list of medalists that includes Joseph Sykora (Topy Cup), Mark Harrell (Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate), Matthew Swan (Puerto Rico Classic) and Michael Thompson (SEC Championships).
Those four men, as well as junior Matt Hughes, will represent Alabama in its postseason play. The five combined to win the 2008 SEC Championship. Thompson, Swan and Harrell were all voted All-SEC by the league's coaches.
Alabama will need that firepower to place among the top 10 in the Central Regional. The field includes Big 12 conference champion Oklahoma State and teams from 10 different conferences, including the SEC, Big 12, Southland, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Big East, Mid-American, Horizon, Metro Atlantic and the Northeast. Eleven out of the 12 SEC men's golf teams advanced to postseason play (Vanderbilt was the exception). Four of those SEC teams will be in the Central Regional, including Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are in the Central Regional, and LSU and Kentucky were sent to the West Regional.
"This is the NCAA tournament, so the field is very, very good," said Seawell, the 2008 SEC Coach of the Year. "Out of the 27 teams at the Central Regional, literally 23 can make it. It's a tough regional but they all are. It's the postseason, the NCAA tournament. Every team is good. The Scarlet Course is a difficult golf course, but I think that can be helpful. The harder the course, the more it displays talent. We're looking forward to going there and seeing what happens."
This is Alabama's 17th NCAA postseason trip for men's golf since its first in 1973. Seawell is in his sixth season at Alabama and has coached Alabama to the postseason five of those six years, including the last four straight seasons. Last year Alabama finished 2nd in the NCAA Central Regional at Sugar Grove, Ill., and went on to place sixth at the NCAA finals in Williamsburg, Va. Alabama has made 12 regional appearances since 1991 but has never won the regional. It placed second in 2007 and in 1992.
Thompson, the 2008 SEC Champion and Golfer of the Year, leads the nation with his 70.00 stroke average. After returning from Columbus Saturday night, he and Seawell will fly to Texas on Sunday morning for the Ben Hogan Award ceremony. Thompson is one of three finalists for the award which will be given out at a banquet on Sunday night. It is the top honor in collegiate golf, given to the top golfer from all divisions of the NCAA, the NAIA and junior college golf.
Fans can keep up with Alabama's play in the NCAA Central Regional through a live scoring site, www.golfstat.com
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