A Q&A With MSU Golf Coach Clay Homan

After a fourth place finish in the NCAA East Regional the Mississippi State men's golf team advanced to the NCAA Championship which will be held at the Kampen Course at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette, Indiana, May 28-30. MSU head coach Clay Homan talked about the regional and his expectations from his team during the upcoming NCAA Championship.

How much time were you able to practice your team leading up to the regional?
"It was right at the end of the school year and the kids were in exams, so I really didn't see them that much. We didn't have a structured practices because of their different schedules. And we had just finished the SEC Tournament. So, right after the SEC Tournament, I gave them the next week off to prepare for their finals to allow them to finish on a strong note."

That obviously worked academically, didn't it?
"It did. We had the highest gpa of any men's sports at Mississippi State, 3.19. We had seven out of eleven guys who had a 3.0 or higher. Two guys had a 4.0 and two other guys were Dean's Scholars. So, we had two President's Scholars and two Dean's Scholars. We are very proud of that. We are going to have two guys who are going to make Academic All-Americans this year, Josh Oller and Noah Goldman."

Did you notice that they were playing well going into the regional?
"They performed well at the SEC Tournament. And they got a lot of confidence with their fifth place finish at the SEC Tournament. Once they knew there were going to a regional, they really worked hard and focused in on it. Even though I didn't get to see them a lot, the times I did see them they were really focused on what they wanted to do.

"After they finished their final exams, five of them went to Birmingham to play in an invitational tournament on their own - two redshirt freshmen and three traveling players - Carlos Sainz, Matt Fast and Josh Oller. The three traveling guys finished in the top 25. Going over there was a good move on their part because they got their sharpness back. We had a three week gap between the end of the SEC Tournament and the regional.

"Then, we went to Birmingham two days before the East Regional started. We played on one of the toughest golf courses in the south, the Birmingham Country Club. I played with them, so I knew they were all playing well. Two of them shot 69 on one of the hardest golf courses anywhere.

"When we played the practice round at Chattanooga, they all seemed to be playing with confidence, playing with a lot of focus. Once the tournament got started I could just see it in their eyes. And they played with a lot of poise, a lot of confidence. That's not to say that they weren't nervous. I know a couple of them were nervous. But that's ok because it meant that it meant something to them.

"The first day that we played, we played in the toughest of conditions. We were the last team off and the rain started a little before noon. So, we played in solid rain from the time we started - even warming up. That concerned me a little bit because we hadn't played in any rain. But they came out and did well. Josh Bevell, who has been our five guy pretty much all year, came out and shot 66. That really gave us a boost.

"The next day we had an early tee time which was good. We came out pretty strong and got off to a good start, but we didn't finish off our round particularly well. I think we played the last two holes four over. I was happy where we were - we were in 5th place - but I felt like we had left some shots out there.

"Coming out in the third round, we played the first hole at 2 under and the second hole at 2 under. We came out really strong after the first four holes of the day. Then, we slipped after the first nine holes. But we came out in the back nine and made something like 12 or 13 birdies as a team. We really came on strong. Being juniors and seniors, the guys handled themselves the way they should have."

What was it like coming back from the regional knowing you were heading to the NCAA Championship?
"We all drove back to Starkville together. It was pretty neat. They all talked about what we had accomplished and the things they did during the spring. The kids really felt a sense of accomplishment. You could see how proud they were."

When do you go to the NCAA Championship?
"We will leave on Sunday and we'll have two practice rounds - one on Monday and one on Tuesday. Then, the tournament begins on Wednesday, and it'll be four rounds. But there is a cut after the third round to 15 teams. Those 15 teams will play the last round."

What are your thoughts about your team's chances of making the top 15?
"I would say if we play like we played this week, I think we can do it. Besides Georgia in the East Regional, there was no one in the regional that I felt like we couldn't beat. And there are some teams in the central and west regionals that we can play with. But I haven't seen a lot of other teams that are among the top 10. But we have beaten several teams that have been ranked in the top 10 this year, so we will have to see what happens."

What do you know about the other 29 teams?
"We know a lot about a lot of the teams. But we have never seen the teams out west - USC, UCLA, Oregon. And we've never played with Texas. But we know Alabama and Georgia because we have played with them or seen them play. And there aren't many teams any better than either of those teams. So, we are confident that we can be very competitive. I don't know if it's realistic to think that we will win a national championship, but we are sure going to give it a try. I don't think this group of players will feel intimidated or feel like they don't belong there. They know they should be there and belong there."

And when you consider you have four juniors and only one senior among the five that played in the regional, you should also be pretty good next year as well.
"You try not to think too much about next year because you are not guaranteed that you will be back next year. It's hard to make the NCAA Championship. You have teams like South Carolina that is ranked 7th in the country and Tennessee, Duke, Georgia Tech and UNLV all ranked in the top 15 who didn't make it this year. Tennessee-Chattanooga was ranked among the top 15 and playing on their home course and they didn't make it. You have to have five guys who are playing well together. If you don't have that, you can have all the talent in the world and not make it. As an example, South Carolina finished 2nd at the SEC Tournament and beat Georgia. Then Georgia comes back in the regional and beats them by almost 50 shots."

Do you feel you are about where you should be with this group of players?
"Yes, we had a great year that met my expectations, but didn't exceed them. This is where I thought we should be because I felt like this team has enough talent to be among the top 30 in the country. I feel like we are a top 30 team. Would I have been disappointed if we hadn't made the nationals, yes I would have. But I would have understood that it happens because all the good teams don't always make the national. But I knew this team could."

Will the golf course be a big factor in who wins it?
"I don't much about the golf course but that is a lot of it. A lot of it is having a golf course that fits your team's style of play. And that's across the board. Every team has their strengths. Certain golf courses don't fit certain teams."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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