A deep and talented team, Auburn is anchored by sophomore All-SEC Matt Gilchrest, who has a 70.74 stroke average this season. Junior All-SEC selection Michael Johnson is No. 2 with freshman All-SEC Ben Schlottman in the third spot. Schlottman currently has the lowest single-season stroke average in Auburn history at 70.14 while shattering the Auburn freshman record. They are followed by senior Dan Stringfellow (71.31) and sophomore Ryan Benton (71.19), who both tied for seventh at the NCAA Lubbock Regional the last time out.
Fielding a team that has proven it can win and has talent up and down the lineup, Clinard said this week it’s all about playing quality golf on a very demanding course. With the depth needed to make a run and a team that could be a tough out if the Tigers can qualify for match-play, Clinard said for him it all starts with having a team full of good players.
“It’s huge,” Clinard said of his team’s depth. “For coaches it’s definitely a confidence thing and relaxing. We’ve got five guys who can win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two or three guys right at the top this week.”
Concentrating on improving their games and fine-tuning things as the team gets ready for the NCAA Championships, Clinard and the Tigers had the fortune of being able to get a sneak peak at The Concession Club this week on TV with the NCAA Women’s Championships contested on the same course. Getting the opportunity to watch was helpful in some ways, but Clinard said there’s no substitute to playing the course, something the Tigers will do in a practice round on Thursday.
“I think it helps a little bit, but it’s a little bit different game because the guys can hit it higher, they can spin it, things of that nature,” Clinard said. “It’s interesting to see the green complexes and see how fast they are and see the run-offs, but TV doesn’t necessarily do it justice because when you get out on the grounds there is always more slope.”
That slope on and around the greens will make for a tough challenge for the guys if things firm up and the greens get even faster. Because of that Clinard said it’s important to know where to play shots correctly, but much like playing The Masters at Augusta National for the pros, this tournament may be just as much about missing shots in the correct locations.
“It’s a Jack Nicklaus golf course and he’s going to test you and give you some lines off the tee that will tempt you,” Clinard said. “I think you’ve got to play the golf course the way he designed it for you to play. It will be a composure golf course, too. You’ve got to hold your composure because the odds are you’re going to hit a bad shot, hit it in the water somewhere.
“The green complexes will be a challenge, just making sure we hit it in the right quandrant of the greens to give ourselves the best chance to make birdie or par because they are fairly big and slopey and have a lot of run-offs towards the drainage areas. It will be a typical Nicklaus course and it’s tough, which we like. It will separate the field and we’re looking forward to it.”
The full field at the NCAA Championship field consists of No. 1 Florida State, No. 1 Illinois, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Arizona State, No. 4 Vanderbilt, No. 5 Stanford, No. 6 South Carolina, No. 7 LSU, No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 9 Georgia Tech, No. 10 Oregon, No. 11 Oklahoma, No. 13 Southern California, No. 13 South Florida, No. 13 Washington, No. 16 UCLA, No. 18 Oklahoma State, No. 21 SMU, No. 22 UNLV, No. 25 Virginia and unranked teams Charlotte, Clemson, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Houston, San Diego State, TCU and UAB.
The match play quarterfinals and semi-finals both take place on Tuesday at 6 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Central after the 30-team field is cut to 15 on Sunday and then pared down to eight after Monday's round. The NCAA Championship match is on Wednesday, June 3 at 1:10 pm CDT.
The Golf Channel will televise the NCAA Championships live on Monday from 3-6 pm Central, Tuesday from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:30-6 p.m. and Wednesday, June 3 from 2-6 p.m.
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