"I have ten guys on the roster going into the fall.
"Two of them, Jake Lambert and Josh Oller, are fifth-year seniors after taking a redshirt year. Both of them are exceptional students, great kids and they work hard. I look for both of those guys to contribute.
"Josh is probably a little ahead of Jake as far as what he has done during his career at Mississippi State. Josh won the Greenville Invitational this past summer, shooting 10-under. He also finished 6th or 7th in the State Amateur. And he made it to the sectionals of the US Open Qualifier.
"Jake has come on and improved a lot the last year. His scores have gotten a lot better during the last year. He struggled with his game the first few years he was here. He was a fantastic junior player when he was 14 and 15, then he fell on some tough times late in his junior career. But in the last year his scores have really dropped because he's become much more comfortable with what he's trying to do on the golf course. So, he will definitely see some playing time this year.
"I have six juniors on the roster, three of whom have played in just about every tournament since they've been here. I don't think Carlos Sainz has missed a tournament since he's been here. Noah Goldman may have missed one. Carlos had the low scoring average last year while Noah had it the year before. Both have a lot of tournament experience and know how to win.
"Carlos brings a lot to the table. He hits the ball a long way and is very strong. The main thing he needs to work on is his mental toughness, although he works as hard as anyone. And he's becoming more confident in himself. That's really about his only obstacle.
"Noah has never doubted himself. He's a kid who is a competitor. He doesn't hit the ball very far, but he knows how to compete and win. Although he doesn't do anything flashy, he knows how to manage his game and is a very good putter.
"Matt Fast is another guy. He won a tournament last year, but he was a little inconsistent last spring after having a really good fall where he averaged 72+ something. Then, in the spring he really struggled with his putting. His driving was really good, his iron play was decent, but his short game, in particular his putting, was really bad toward the end of the year. He's not a bad putter, just streaky. But I know he's gotten a lot better because he had some good tournaments this summer. He qualified for the Southern Amateur and was among the top-five in the State Amateur. He also finished 3rd in the US Amateur Qualifier. He was the first alternate in it.
"I also picked up Brian Mason who had a solid year for us. He probably improved more from his first year to his second year than anybody else. He really worked hard on his game and learned how to hit the ball from left to right. When he first got here, he was hitting big draws that started way out to the right. He's competitor who hates to lose.
"Another kid that we have is Josh Bevell, a walk-on from Mississippi College who had to sit out last year due to the transfer rule. He will have two years to play two. I put him on the team at the end of last fall and he qualified a lot this spring. And he really had a breakout summer, finishing 2nd in the State Amateur and qualified for the US Pub Links with a 5-under. His swing is not the most sound swing in the world, but he's a competitor who refuses to lose. He's just a fighter.
"Logan Young is a redshirt junior who played in quite a few tournaments last year. He went through a grip change this summer because his grip had been too strong for his entire career. He worked with several pros and they got his grip in a more neutral position. That's a huge change for him, but it's just a matter of time when he will get comfortable with it. He had some good rounds this summer, but he was just inconsistent.
"I've got two freshmen coming in, one from Calgary, Canada named Brad Thompson. Brad is a good student and athlete. He's a former hockey player, so he's strong. And he hits the ball a long way. He's also a tough competitor, but I'm not really sure if he will play much or any this year.
"Adam Hossley, from Madison Central High School, won the State 5A Championship his junior year. I don't think he's ready to play SEC golf at this point, but I think he will bring a lot to the table because he hits the ball a long way. He's thin, but he's strong. And he's an excellent student who made 31 on his ACT.
"Because we have so many veterans, we can bring our freshmen along slowly, but if they shoot the numbers and can beat the guys we have, then they are definitely going to play. But, at this point, it might be a situation where if they aren't playing by Christmas-time we might redshirt them because of the gap we have between the freshmen and juniors."
What are your team's expectations this coming year?
"Last year, we felt like we were good enough to make the post-season, but we didn't play well when we needed to. We weren't shooting consistent. I really don't know the reasons why. You have to have one or two guys shooting under par each round these days. 74 and 75 was a pretty good score 10 years ago, but it's not today due to the increased technology and talent. But I think we have the guys this year who can shoot under par. And you have to have guys who I call eraser scorers, guys who can erase a 72, 73 or 74 with a 68. I think we have a few guys like that."
How important is the SEC Tournament in golf?
"I would be lying if I said the SEC Tournament is not important, but it doesn't matter, to an extent, what you do in the SEC because we are competing against the other 40 teams in our district, District 3 South, to advance to regionals. We have to finish among the top 8 in our district to advance to regionals. And we probably have the toughest district because we have Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Florida State, UAB and South Carolina. And you have Georgia State who is a top-20 to top-15 team every year and makes the nationals every year. Our district is so strong that everybody among the top eight in our district will probably be in the top-25. Something that could help us and others in our district is that there will be more at-large bids than there ever has been, probably 20 or more."
Do you expect the district your team is in will receive a large number of the at-large bids?
"Absolutely, because we are definitely the strongest district. A large number of our teams were good enough to go to nationals and they didn't get invited to regionals."
Where was Mississippi State ranked in your district last year?
"We were between 12 and 16. We ended up dead-on .500 with a 83-83 record. We weren't that far and would have probably gotten an at-large bid last year if they had more at-large bids. But they've added a new rule to advance to regionals, you have to have a .500 winning percentage."
Playing in such a tough district might make it a little difficult to have a .500 winning percentage.
"If you play well that will take care of it. But you still have to be careful with your scheduling. I may have over-scheduled us this year because we got in a lot of tournaments that have opened up because a lot of teams didn't go back to some of the really strong tournaments due to not wanting to compete against the really strong teams in the district consistently. We were invited to the University of Florida Tournament for the first time in about seven years simply because of the opening. We also got invited back to Florida State and the Linger Longer which was one of the toughest fields we played in last year. We are going to have to step it up."
Why would you want to play in so many tough tournaments?
"It's good and bad, but you want to play against good teams and you want to play at good venues. You want to put yourself in that type arena. In golf, the better your competition is, the more it elevates your play. And with the guys that we have and the experience they have against great competition, they won't be intimidated. The goal is to make it to the NCAA Championship and to do that we have to put ourselves in that type arena as often as possible."
Going back to the regionals, how many teams can advance to the regionals?
"The country is divided into regions - the east, central and west - and there are districts in each one. I think the east, central and west will each have 27 teams go to regionals from all the different districts in their regions. Only 10 teams from each regionals, 30 total will go to nationals.
"If we finish where we finished last year, 72nd in one poll and 74th in another poll, we should have a good chance to make it to the regionals. Obviously, our expectations are a lot higher than that this year, but it's a step up because when we first got here we were ranked 156th in the nation."
The last time I talked to you I asked if there were any facilities that would be nice to have. Are the facilities that you would like to have any closer to being a reality?
"They aren't really close at all, but, hopefully, something will happen. But there are a lot of logistics we have to work out before that can happen. But we can practice at the University course anytime we want to. Their new pro has worked with us really well as far as setting aside a portion of the range. We also work at Ole Waverly twice a week and we can also work at Columbus Country Club. We even go to the Tupelo Country Club every once in awhile."
Going back to facilities, explain again what you would like to see added?
"Pretty much everybody in the SEC has an indoor facility where they have the capability to pull up the doors and hit out to the range. They also have classrooms, computer video simulation where they can videotape your swing. Even Ole Miss has done a huge renovation to their facility. They've also had a locker room for six or seven years."
Money-wise, how much would a facility like that cost?
"Without the land included, a facility like that costs between 1.5 million to 3 million. And a situation that we have with the land is the University Golf Course doesn't have much land around it where they can expand. So, we are kind of landlocked."
How much land would you need?
"The facility probably wouldn't require more than 3 or 4 acres with the short game area. With the driving range, you will need between 15 and 20 acres. Plus, you have to maintain the property on a regular basis.
"But Ole Waverly has been really good to us. And that is a huge recruiting tool for us. Plus, they have a small hitting range indoor facility with two hitting bays and some computer equipment."
Bottom line, what is a facility that you feel you really, really need?
"More than anything I think we need a short-game facility. A locker room would be great and an additional perk that would help you in recruiting, but a short-game facility would allow us to see a tremendous improvement in our short-game. Right now, we don't have the capability to practice a lot of different shots around the green. A lot of times we play on golf courses where we have some shots that we don't have the chance to practice. When we go to Sea Island every year we play on hugh elevated greens where you can hit five or six different shots. But we aren't able to simulate those type shots."
My final question, do you feel the program is about where you expected it to be going into your fifth year?
"When I first got here, we were 156th in the nation. Then, the first two years I was in a similar situation to what Coach Croom was in. We had a situation where we had kids on scholarship who were not Division-I type players. They were junior college players at best. I only had one Division-I type player when I got here. But I didn't necessarily want to clean house because the kids were doing what they were supposed to do; they just weren't very talented. I didn't want to punish the kids the first year after I got here even though they weren't Division-I talent.
"So, I had about two years where I had to wait until those kids graduated. Then, I had to bring in an entire new group and they were young guys. So, year-three I had a team made up mostly of freshmen, talented players but still freshmen. This year, with a couple of seniors and a huge class of juniors, these kids are ready to step their game up to a level where they will compete."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.