Reb golfers start their season in Georgia

Ole Miss carries a No. 30 national ranking and two freshmen with stellar credentials to its first golf tournament of the school year. The Rebels begin play Friday morning in Dalton, Ga., at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, hosted by Georgia Tech.

The field is as strong as any the Rebels have competed against in years. Of the 18 teams involved, 15 of them are ranked among the nation's top 30. It's the kind of tournament head coach Ernest Ross says that not every team is invited to play.

"Hopefully we'll start off well, and I expect us to," said Ross, in his fifth year back after coaching the Rebels for eight years from 1979-87. "There are a lot of good teams in this field, and this is the kind of tournament you want your team to have the opportunity to compete in. You have to have competed at a high level as a program to get invited to tournaments like this. This field is even stronger than an NCAA Regional."

The two freshmen have both qualified to be among the five golfers Ross has taken to Dalton this weekend. Joe David of Madison, Tenn., who will play No. 2 for the Rebs this weekend, and Sean Dale of Jacksonville, Fla., who will play No. 4, will get their first taste of collegiate golf after terrific junior careers.

"Both our talented freshmen made the five-man lineup," Ross said. "They're both good players and really talented. Through qualifying their as good as advertised. Joe's got a ton of length and hits it as long as anybody we've ever had in this program. Sean has played better and better just in the short time since he's been here. He shot 69 at Old Waverly (in qualifying for this tournament), and we started to see the game we knew he had. He's got a good attitude and is an outstanding putter and all-around good player."

Ross said he believes that even though the two are freshmen, their competitive experiences and their talent should mean they are ready.

"There is some adjustment for different people coming in and playing college golf," he said. "All of a sudden all of your teammates can really play the game. For any freshmen going into a really good program it can be a shock. There is some pressure there that maybe a freshman hasn't experienced before. And a lot of people don't perform too well when there is a lot of pressure. But these two guys have done well, and golf is still golf no matter the league or the arena. You play the golf course."

The biggest surprise of the fall has been senior Stefan Strandlund of Sweden. In his third year with the Ole Miss program after transferring from Bethune-Cookman, so far he's been the Rebels top man this fall.

"Stefan has been hurt for two years since he's been here," Ross said. "One year he had mono and one year he had a badly strained wrist. When he did play last year, he was pretty far down the lineup. He came in here (last month) and was playing well and qualified as No. 1. His last qualifying round was a 67 with no bogeys at Old Waverly. I've certainly been pleasantly surprised with him."

Senior Jesse Speirs of Bangor, Maine, an All-SEC performer last season after transferring from TCU, will play at No. 3 this weekend.

"I knew he would be one of our top players returning," Ross said of Speirs. "He's played well but not yet up to his potential. He would probably say the same."

Sophomore Jonathan Randolph of Brandon is not making this trip. The All-SEC Freshman last year has been hampered by a chest/rib cage muscle injury all summer. He's just now rounding into form again.

"He really didn't start hitting ball full speed until a week before school started," Ross said. "He certainly missed out on a lot of competition (this summer). And mentally when he came back, I know he's been frustrated some. He wasn't able to make real aggressive swings at it, but that will come."

At No. 5 Johnny Delprete, a sophomore from Palm City, Fla., who played in several tournaments for Ole Miss last year, rounds out the five Rebels competing this weekend.

"We need some improvement in our scoring skills," Ross said. "We haven't shot the low scores in qualifying that I'd hoped we might. I know we'll need to score better to be able to compete against some of the strong teams we're playing.

"Everybody's anxious, kind of like a football team heading into its first game," he continued. "We want to see where we stand. I like our approach. I've got a group of guys who are very motivated to be good."

The tournament is a three-day event, wrapping up on Sunday. You can follow the Rebs on www.golfstat.com.


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