Of course, the veteran Rebel coach is hoping for an even better finish. But fourth place last year signaled a rise for the program, and it vaulted the Rebels into the NCAA Tournament in Atlanta.
Unlike other sports who compete for a conference title over a season and then possibly have a postseason tournament, golf is different. Men's and women's golf teams compete over only three days, three rounds, to crown a conference champion. Teams have to be at their best at just that time to have a shot – like the Rebels did last year.
With four tournament titles this season under their belts and one of them coming just two tournaments ago, the Rebels enter this year's event with much hope for a strong run.
"Our players have been working really hard for this," said Ross, who coached Ole Miss to an SEC golf title in 1984 during his first tenure as head coach. "This team has a lot of talent, probably as much talent as any team we've had here since the '84-'85 team (which finished fourth in the NCAA Championships). What I really like about them is their tremendous work ethic. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in their practice habits. They really want to play well."
The Rebels, ranked 21st nationally this week, arrived in St. Simon's Island, Ga., and went through a practice round Thursday. The 54-hole tournament will be played at the par 72, Frederica Golf Club, a 7,217-yard layout.
The Tom Fazio designed course, which opened in 2005, will play host to some of the top golfers in the nation with a strong field of teams. Currently seven SEC teams are among the Top 25.
"I really like the group we're taking to this tournament," Ross said. "It's a really long course, and we've got a really long team that can hit it a long way. We're probably as long (off the tee) as any team in the SEC with the possible exception of Georgia. Alabama and Georgia are the highest ranked (SEC) teams going in, and this is a great opportunity for us. If you want to play bigtime golf, the SEC is the place. Here's the stage."
Ross will send out to the course junior Jesse Speirs and senior Kyle Ellis, two of the top ranked golfers in the SEC. Speirs owns a 72.36 stroke average with three top-five and five top-10 finishes. Ellis has a 72.39 stroke average with two top-five and four top-10 performances.
Senior David Marino is enjoying his best year as a Rebel with a 72.93 stroke average. He has one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
The Rebels have had three freshmen participate this year, and one of them, Jonathan Randolph, has made the lineup in every tournament. Randolph has a 73.04 stroke average, third best freshman in the league behind Georgia's Harris English and Russell Henley. Randolph had his best showing as a Rebel just last week, finishing second at the Bank of America Intercollegiate in Madison.
Rounding out the Ole Miss lineup for this weekend is freshman Johnny Delprete, who tied for 24th at the Bank of America Intercollegiate in only his second tournament with the Rebels.
Ross, whose team has already qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, said he and his players know the importance of this event. But he tries not to overhype it, since it is only one tournament over three days, and anything - from one poor round to adverse weather conditions - can change things quickly.
"We try not to put extra pressure on the players for this tournament," he said. "When somebody asks you how you finished in the SEC, in our sport it's all based on one event. That alone is enough pressure. So I always try to downplay it because it can be too much pressure. This is also for us a stepping stone to the NCAA Tournament. We don't have to sweat getting back to the NCAA Tournament this year. So we're looking at this as an opportunity to win it but to also get ready for the NCAAs."
Live Scoring will be available all three rounds, and fans can access it by going to www.OleMissSports.com and clicking on the link in the upcoming events box.
On the women's side, first-year UM golf coach Michele Drinkard continues to see improvement from her squad. The Lady Rebels are looking to build on a solid finish in their last tournament at Alabama.
The SEC women's tourney is played at Tennessee National Golf Club in Loudon, Tenn. The course, designed by Greg Norman, opened on Sept. 8, 2006 and will play a par-72 at 6,310 yards.
The Lady Rebels finished third at the Crimson Tide Classic. Junior Dori Carter shot a UM school-record 65 in the final round of that event and finished second.
"She not only broke our records, but her 65 tied eight other players for lowest round in the entire NCAA this season," Drinkard said. "So that's quite an accomplishment."
Carter leads the team with three top-five and four top-10 finishes on the season. She has finished outside the top 20 only once this year. Carter has been the top finisher for the Lady Rebels in every tournament this season and has led the team in 16 of the past 19 tournaments during her career.
Carter will be joined by sophomore Sara Grantham, freshman Jillian Brodd, junior Rachel Ingram, and sophomore Andrea Buccilla.
Drinkard joins Ross in the way they approach a conference tournament.
"I know from experience that the more relaxed you play and the more you treat it like just another tournament, the better you're going to play," said Drinkard, who won two Big South Championships as head coach at Birmingham Southern and led her program to the NCAA Tournament twice. "Yes, there are other teams there, but it's just you against the golf course. If you forget that, you'll get distracted. So we're excited about the opportunity."
Rebel, Lady Reb golfers at SEC tourney
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