Rebel golfers put themselves in NCAA position

They didn't win it all, but that was all they didn't do.

The Ole Miss men's golf team finished fourth at the SEC Championships in St. Simons Island, Ga., to likely put themselves into the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2001. They won't find out until May 7, but their wait is now less nerve-wracking and more secure. At least that's what veteran coach Ernest Ross thinks. And he's been through these type situations before.

If the Rebels are indeed selected, it would be the fifth time for the program. The first two were under Ross' watch back in 1984 and again in 1985. The Rebs were SEC champions in 1984, the only time the program has won the prestigious event.

While they obviously wanted to win the tourney this past weekend, a top five or six finish was the goal. They felt it would get them into the NCAA field. They got back to Oxford about 2:30 a.m. today a weary bunch of Rebels but feeling pretty good that there'd be more golf in their future as a team.

"We had some lost luggage and some other things that delayed us on the trip home, but that didn't bother us quite as much after the way we played," said Ross, who returned to Ole Miss as head coach in 2004 after coaching the Rebels from 1979-88. The way things went at the tournament made things go a lot easier on the trip home."

The Rebels were the surprise first-round team leader of the event on Friday. Led by sophomore Will Roebuck, whose one-under-par 69 was the only score in the entire field under par, Ole Miss was the name at the top of the leaderboard in terribly adverse conditions.

"The wind was unbelievable," Ross said. "The weather was just horrendous. We may have practiced in some wind that strong, but I don't think we've ever played in any like it."

The wind was blowing sand out of the bunkers. When balls were spotted on the green, they'd sometimes start rolling as soon as players turned them loose to line up for a putt.

"Will played awfully well that day," Ross said. "And a couple of other highlights for us over there was the play of (senior) Callum Macaulay, who I would say is our team chemistry leader. He's the most vocal of our players, and he really cares a lot about Ole Miss and this team.

"And (senior) Chris Rogers started Sunday bogey-bogey and played three under the rest of the day. So he had a fantastic round to help us finish as high as we did."

It was the highest the Rebels had finished in this event since 1988 when they tied for third.

Roebuck completed the event in a tie for fourth place. Rogers and Macaulay finished tied for ninth. Junior David Marino was tied for 23rd and Senior Brice Bailey completed three rounds in 58th place.

"I don't know if Ole Miss has ever had three golfers finish in the top 10 at the SEC Tournament," Ross said.

Ross is allowing himself to feel "99.9 percent sure" that the Rebels are in the NCAA Tournament. The reasons?

"Finishing fourth in the SEC Tournament. Finishing ahead of No. 1 ranked Georgia and No. 9 ranked Florida this weekend. I feel we'll be ranked (by computer ranking) in the 30 to 35 range when this comes out, and I felt we needed to be in the top 40 to make it."

So while there is always that seed of doubt, the Rebels are about as confident as they can be that they're in. They left Oxford last week trying not to put a lot of pressure on themselves. They talked about not talking about golf. Discussing other things. Listening to music. Keeping their minds off the tournament and only focusing on golf as the rounds were played. But not making the weekend all about golf all the time.

The players said that. Coach Ross, assisted by former Auburn golfer Jonathan Dismuke, talked about it. And it worked.

"Other than winning, we accomplished our goals, and in some way exceeded our goals," Ross said. "It's sometimes hard to tell when a team is ready to play, and that's especially true in golf. Being fired up isn't necessarily a good thing in golf. You can get too excited or too nervous and not play well.

"This group has had a determination all year. And I don't think we've played our best yet. I believe we can be a top 20 team if we correct some things."

Between now and NCAA Tournament time in mid-May, that is. Because that's where the Rebels believe they're headed next.

"We're a power team, and that course we just played doesn't necessarily favor a power team," Ross said of his long hitters. "But with the wind it may have helped us in the long run on the longer holes. Give credit to our guys for focusing and being more precise on their tee shots."

And knowing precisely what their goals were when they left Oxford for the south Georgia coast; then seeing them through all the way to a strong and impressive finish on Sunday afternoon.

Here are the final team results from the 2007 SEC Men's Golf Championship:

1. Tennessee +5 +29 301-283-285 = 869

2. Alabama +5 +31 298-288-285 = 871

3. Auburn +2 +34 304-288-282 = 874

4. Ole Miss +8 +36 295-293-288 = 876

5. Florida +10 +38 304-284-290 = 878

6. Georgia +6 +43 308-289-286 = 883

7. Vanderbilt +9 +46 302-295-289 = 886

8. South Carolina +8 +49 304-297-288 = 889

9. LSU +14 +52 301-297-294 = 892

10. Arkansas +6 +57 316-295-286 = 897

11. Kentucky +16 +61 312-293-296 = 901

12. Miss. State +22 +73 304-307-302 = 913

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