Living His Dream: Tiger Senior Proving He Belongs

<b>Editor's Note: This is the second of a summer series of in-depth feature articles on current or former Auburn athletes.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--Jonathan Dismuke may not be Auburn's tallest golfer or the most powerful off the tee, but in 2004 few Auburn athletes have been as successful, determined, consistent and more important to their team than the senior from Calhoun City, Miss.

The Tigers came into the 2004 season with two of their best golfers redshirting while facing what has been rated as the fourth most difficult schedule in the nation. The Tigers struggled much of the season, placing no higher than sixth in their first 10 tournaments.

Now with Dismuke, who is nicknamed "Diz," leading the Tigers in a late-season charge, Auburn will be making its third consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championship Tournament starting on Tuesday.

Jonathan Dismuke carries a 72.65 strokes per round average as a senior. He was a second team All-SEC selection.

With his collegiate career coming to a close, Dismuke leads an Auburn team that is ending the season with surprisingly strong results.

"There is always flow in golf," Dismuke says. "There are always ups and downs. You want to catch your ups at the right time. Obviously we were down the first of the year, but we are kind of on the way up right now."

Auburn coach Mike Griffin has high praise for the senior. "He turned into a fabulous team leader for us this year when he was suddenly thrust into the role of being our lone starting senior," Griffin says. "I am not saying he relished the job, but from the performance that he did, you would have to think he probably did."

Dismuke picked up the game of golf as a teenager in his hometown of Calhoun City, Miss., with the goal of earning an athletic scholarship to college.

Dismuke was the 1998 state champion at Calhoun Academy in Calhoun City, Miss.

"When I was younger, I always wanted to play in college sports and become a professional athlete," Dismuke notes. "By the time I got to the eighth grade, I figured out that I wasn't very good at anything else. I always practiced a lot more than everybody else and I was always decent at everything, but I was never good enough to play a college sport.

"I started playing golf with a friend of mine, an older guy, and I liked it," Dismuke adds. "Two years later, I ended up winning the state and junior (championships) of Mississippi."

As Dismuke's high school career came to a close, few scholarship offers came in, but an encounter with Griffin at the Future Masters tournament in Dothan brought Dismuke the chance to attend Auburn University.

"I had an opportunity to watch him play in some junior tournaments," Griffin remembers. "I wouldn't say anything set me on fire except that he had good fundamentals.

"The thing that really caught my eye was a gentleman in Dothan that was a good friend of mine named John Culpepper," Griffin says. "He had befriended Diz over the years and had gotten to know him. He called me and said, ‘Griff, you need to take a look at this kid. He is really a unique kid.' Anytime I get that kind of information from a close friend, I am going to take an extra special look at the young man. I did and basically just kind of fell in love with him down at the Future Masters. He didn't do anything particularly great one way or the other. Every now and then you see a young man who might have something uniquely special and he fit that bill."

Jonathan Dismuke tees off at the Lakes Course at Grand National. He has played 35 rounds for the Tigers this season and all but one counted in the team total for that round.

When Griffin offered Dismuke a chance to play for the Tigers, he was eager to join the program. "Auburn was by far the best place I had to go," he says. "I always kind of dream big and I thought Auburn would be the only place where I would have a chance to win a national championship. If I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to play at a big-time school, play a big schedule and play against the best players because I think that is the best way to measure yourself."

With what he deems average distance off the tee, Dismuke realized that he would have to make every shot count as a college player. This required not only accuracy, but a well planned strategy for every course he played.

"I think I probably pay more attention in the practice round than a lot of people," Dismuke says. "I go out there with a purpose instead of ho-humming my way around. The strength of my game is inside of 130 yards. If I can get it inside of 130 yards I am better than most."

Griffin says Dismuke has been successful with his strategy of taking care of the details. "His discipline is unbelievable," the Auburn coach says. "He is one of the hardest working people we've ever had in this program. It's nice if you have talent, but work ethic is sometimes more important than the talent you come with."

After three solid seasons at Auburn, Dismuke emerged as the leader of a young Tiger squad for the 2003-2004 season. Coming into their home tournament, the Billy Hitchcock Invitational, the Tigers desperately needed to find their game to get a postseason berth. Auburn took the Hitchcock by storm with Dismuke finishing second individually.

That gave Auburn the momentum to make a strong third place showing at the SEC Championship and earn an invitation to the NCAA East Regional in New Haven, Conn. Facing a draw that had eight Top 25 teams, including top-ranked Florida, Dismuke says he knew he and his unranked teammates would have to perform very well to advance to the nationals.

"Yale Golf Club was really different from what I expected it to be," he says. "I had heard a lot about it, but it was a lot tougher than I expected it to be. One par instead of a bogey, or a bogey instead of a double bogey, that means so much more at a golf course like Yale."

Auburn moved into the Top 10 after a 14-over-par first round in difficult playing conditions that included heavy fog. The Tigers followed that solid start with rounds of six-over-par and seven-over-par to finish sixth and easily earn an invitation to the NCAA Championship at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.

Dismuke and the Tigers will play Tuesday through Friday at the NCAA Men's Golf Championship in Hot Springs, Va.

During the regional, Dismuke remained at one-over-par to tie teammate Stuart Moore for fourth place individually for the tournament.

"We were comfortable," Dismuke notes. "We had a good lead on the teams behind us. That was the first time in my career that we made it through regionals comfortably. That is saying a lot because I have played on some really good teams."

Dismuke has one more chance starting Tuesday to capture the national title that he hoped for when he signed with Auburn. Determination and heart have carried Dismuke a long way, but his accomplishments this season have been a milestone for his career.

"I don't think I will ever be more proud of a young man than I am of Jonathan Dismuke and what he did for our program this year," Griffin says. "He took a bunch of youngsters on his back and just literally carried them around the countryside."

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