Golfers tee off at SEC tourney

Ernest Ross says the field for this year's Southeastern Conference Golf Tournament, which begins today, is maybe as wide open as he's ever seen it.

"I don't think there's a dominant team, and I believe there are literally eight or nine teams that could win it this year," said the veteran Ole Miss head coach. "And we are one of those. We've played well enough to show we can play with anybody in this field."

The SEC Championship will be played on the 7,217 yard Par 72 Sea Island Golf Club Seaside Course on St. Simon's Island, Georgia. The course, designed by famed course designer Thomas Fazio, opened in 2005. The SEC Golf Tournament has been played at the Sea Island Golf Club six times since 2001. The last two years the tournament was held at the Frederica Golf Club.

Ross has stayed with his same lineup of five players all spring. The Rebels are led by junior All-America candidate Jonathan Randolph, who leads the SEC with a 70.71 stroke average. He is currently ranked No. 10 in Golfstat and No. 12 in Golfweek. He has six top-five finishes in 10 tournaments this year, including three wins.

"Jonathan works hard on his game," Ross said. "He keeps it in play off the tee really well, and he's got a great short game. On the days when he's playing well, his iron game is excellent. His yardage control with his short irons is excellent. His speed control on the greens with the putter is fantastic. We tell the other guys on our team to watch what this young man is doing, because he's a great player."

Joining Randolph on the links this week will be sophomores Billy Brozovich and Joe David along with freshmen Pete Kellermann and Tom Brown. Kellermann recently earned his best finish as a Rebel, tying for seventh at the BancorpSouth Intercollegiate.

"Seaside is a precision golf course, and it is going to fit Jonathan Randolph really well," Ross said. "It's going to fit Tom Brown really well. Billy Brozovich can play it well. Joe David and Pete Kellermann, because of their extreme length, will lose some of that advantage."

Ross said he feels good about how his team has progressed this school year.

"Very pleased," he said. "We started off after the first tournament (back in the fall) ranked 111th in the country. We've moved up to No. 40 right now. Very pleased with our progress and our work ethic and the attitude of the guys on the team. For a team that's playing two sophomores and two freshmen every week, I'm really happy with our progress."

Ross said a key to his team's success in the three-round tourney this weekend is getting off to good starts – on day one and each day of the event.

"Part of it for young players is trying to feel out how good they are relative to everybody else," he said. "I think they know that, but it helps when you really know. I do believe if we get off to a good start, it will help our confidence."

Coach Michele Drinkard

On the women's side, Ole Miss head coach Michele Drinkard has been able to give her players first-hand knowledge of the NorthRiver Yacht Club course they will be playing in Tuscaloosa this weekend in the SEC Women's Golf Tournament, which also begins today. In her third year at Ole Miss, Drinkard is an Alabama alum and was a junior member at NorthRiver after college.

"Hopefully the girls will trust that I know a little bit about this golf course," said Drinkard, who was club champion there twice. "They've changed the greens since I was a member there, going from Bermuda to Bent. So they are really good greens. They are playing this tournament at about 6,000 yards. I do have some knowledge of the course, and I hope that helps our team."

The Rebels are led by freshman Haley Sanders who recently tied for second at the Rebel Intercollegiate held at the Ole Miss Golf Course to lead the team to a third place finish. It marked her best finish as a Rebel.

Joining Sanders in the lineup will be sophomores Haley Millsap and Ashley Lance, senior Sara Grantham and sophomore Natalie Gleadall.

"I feel really good about going into the SECs," Drinkard said. "We are really climbing. Our confidence is high. Our work ethic has always been great, but it's even better now. The girls are excited. It feels like the first day of school back in the fall when they were all pumped up. They are all prepared and ready to play."

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