Braden Thornberry and Chris Malloy

Ole Miss golf will participate in the NCAA Austin Regional next week

Chris Malloy returned to his alma mater, Ole Miss, three years ago to resurrect Rebel golf.

But never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined the turnaround arriving so soon.

No. 20-ranked Ole Miss will travel to Austin, Texas, May 15-17 to compete as the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Austin Regional. The regional will include three rounds of stroke play, with the top five from each of the six regional sites advancing to the 2017 NCAA Golf Championship May 26-31.

“As far as the competition, if you look around, it doesn’t matter where you go,” Malloy said. “I think coaches and fans probably start analyzing, ‘Well, this is a tough draw; this is an easier one.’ But just like I told my guys all year, we’ve got to go play well. If we go play Ole Miss golf and play like we have the entire year, shoot, we’ll be fine.”

No. 3 seed Texas hosts top-seeded Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, Kansas, Liberty, Iowa State, Georgia southern, College of Charleston, McNeese State, Wichita State and Saint Peter’s.

Ole Miss owns a 13-4 record agains the field, with wins over seven of its 13 opponents.

Ole Miss golfer Braden Thornberry

“I hope you can expect to see the Rebels in the finals,” Malloy said. “That’s what we expect from ourselves, but golf’s a little bit weird. It’s hard to know exactly what’s around the corner. But I think we’ll play well in Texas, and then once we get back from that, we’ll decompress for a few days. It’s a long week, but you’re just happy to be there. The guys that play the most golf are the ones that are the happiest because that means they played well that week. You’ve never heard anyone who’s towards the end say, hey, that was way too much golf. They were happy to be there.”

Ole Miss won four matches this season and tied for first in another. Additional accolades included first team All-SEC selections for Braden Thornberry, the No. 6 overall player in the country, and Ben Wolcott. 

Thornberry leads the Rebels with the second-best stroke average in the nation at 69.60. He has four tournament wins and eight Top 5 finishes on the year.

“I don’t think people realize what a special year this has been for our guys and the accolades,” Malloy said. “They won four times, and they could have won about seven times very, very easily. Winning four times, gosh, it’s tough to win once. Look at the elite teams in the country right now. They have one, maybe two wins. It’s hard to win in our sport. 

“You look at Braden Thornberry as well. He’s won four times. Ben Wolcott has won twice. Dear goodness, that’s six individual wins. I’ve been around some very, very good teams. I’ve never been a part of anything like I’ve witnessed with these guys.”

Ole Miss golfer Ben Wolcott

Malloy returned to Ole Miss in 2014-15, guiding the Rebels to their first NCAA Championships appearance since 2011. A year later, Malloy led the Rebels to their first tournament title since 2012 at the FAU Slomin Autism Invite. 

All in all, it’s safe to say home has been kind to Malloy, a two-year letterman and team captain from 1999-2000. But he won’t be satisfied until Ole Miss is a champion.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I hate to say it’s a dream come true. The dream come true is going to be when we’re holding a national championship trophy here. But so far this has been as good as I could have ever hoped. I knew we would be progressing by this point in time, but I’d be lying if I told you we’d have a year like we’re having right now this quickly. 

“These guys that probably had a lot of question marks surrounding them just stepped up and bought into everything that we’ve asked them to do. It’s been really cool, and to do it at your alma mater around friends, family and folks that you love and support you, it’s been amazing. The support’s been amazing. People really do care. As we continue to give them a winning product, it’s going to be pretty special.”

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