Rebel head coach Chris Malloy believes it’s about time for a return trip.
Ole Miss finished in fourth place at the Austin Regional last week to advance to the finals and compete for a title May 26-31. Thirty teams are now set to participate in what Malloy described as a “marathon of a week” at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. Ole Miss is making its first appearance since 2001.
The layout is four rounds of stroke play the first two days. The top eight teams advance to match play beginning May 29.
“It’s the longest week of the year; something that’s a little tough to prepare for,” Malloy said. “But the longer you play, the better. No team will complain about it because we’re all happy to be at this point and still playing. We’ll be happy to be standing there.”
Malloy was a standout golfer at Ole Miss from 1999-2000, leading the Rebels to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances. He spearheaded the Rebels’ 24th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 1999.
After four seasons as head coach at South Florida, Malloy returned to lead his alma mater in 2014. The Rebels, at the time, hadn’t been to the postseason in three years. Ole Miss hasn’t missed since, and now the Rebels are within striking distance of a championship.
Ole Miss won four matches this season. Braden Thornberry and Ben Wolcott picked up All-SEC honors.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I don’t get too emotional, especially in front of the guys, and we’ve had some pretty landmark moments this year and some times that were pretty special. But I pulled them aside (after the Austin Regional) and said, ‘Guys, you know, you’re never going to forget this day for the rest of your life, and don’t underestimate what that means. Because there’s going to be a few days in your life that are going to be that way. It’s when you get married, it’s when your children are born. For me, I can tell you everything about 1999 and the country club up in Providence in Rhode Island. I can tell you everything about the week, and that was the week in which I accomplished what you just did.’
“That’s the day they’ll never forget for the rest of their lives. That was probably the best way I could explain it to them. We were pretty emotional. These guys, they know as well as I do what that means for our program. They’ve put so much hard work into it. They’re on house money right now. They can kind of get up there and freewheel it.”
The Rebels certainly have their work cut out for them. They’re ranked No. 22 in the field, behind No. 1 USC, No. 2 Oklahoma State and others. OSU won the Austin Regional at 13-under par. Ole Miss, by comparison, finished with a 2-over 854.
Not to mention Rich Harvest Farm is widely-regarded as a difficult golf course. Malloy said it plays long, with “brutal” roughs and “slick” greens. The wind is expected to be up, too, making low scoring that much more difficult.
Fortunately for the Rebels, they’ll get one practice round to at least familiarize themselves with what they’ll be facing. Ole Miss arrived in Sugar Grove Tuesday.
“The one thing that we instilled in our guys day one is we want to be a tough team,” Malloy said. “There’s a lot of things you can’t control, but we can control being mentally tough and welcoming adverse conditions. We’ve got it; it’s sitting right in front of us. We’ve had no practice or simulation tournaments on a golf course of this nature. We played some tough venues, but this one is probably in a league of its own in that regard.
“But it’s just golf. These guys have played plenty of tough golf courses, so it shouldn’t catch them off guard. They need to be careful in their mindsets as well. They need to know it’s going to be tough and to embrace it, but you also don’t want to spook them too much. With golfers, it’s like coaching a bunch of kickers in football — they’re as fragile as can be. I think our guys are excited about the challenge. Everybody plays the same golf course. We’ve got to find a way to get through it.”