USC Golf Ready To Tee Off NCAA Regional

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By Sports Department

COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) -- The 20th-ranked South Carolina men’s golf team will open play in the NCAA Columbus Regional on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, with a berth to the NCAA Championship on the line.

The 54-hole event runs through Saturday at the par-71, 7,286-yard Scarlet Course at the Ohio State University Golf Club. The Gamecocks, who enter the regional as the No. 4 seed, will compete against 12 teams for one of five spots available to the NCAA Championship, which will be held May 28-June 2 at the Capital City Club in Atlanta, Ga.

South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald, who has now guided the Gamecocks to five regional appearances, is looking to lead his team back to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2009.

“We are excited to be in the postseason, and the team is ready to play after a few weeks off since the SEC Championship,” McDonald said. “We hope to take our great play from conference and build on what has been a very solid year competitively.”

The Gamecocks had one of their most successful regular seasons in recent history as they recorded five top-three finishes, including a win at the Wendy's Kiawah Classic and two of runner-up finishes. At the SEC Championship, the Gamecocks finished runner-up to second-ranked Alabama, the program's highest finish since 2008.

Carolina will tee off this week with the same lineup it had during the SEC Championship. Senior Dykes Harbin, a second-team All-SEC selection, will occupy the No. 1 position. Sophomore Caleb Sturgeon, who is third on the team in scoring (73.30), will hold down the No. 2 spot, while SEC Freshman of the Year Matt NeSmith will play as the No. 3. Sophomore Sean Kelly and freshman Will Starke round out the lineup.

Harbin, Sturgeon and Kelly all have regional experience as they led the Gamecocks to an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Southwest Regional last year.

This week’s 13-team field features eight teams ranked in the Golfstat Top 50. Fifth-ranked New Mexico received the top seed in the regional and will be joined by No. 8 Stanford, No. 18 Auburn, No. 29 Missouri, No. 32 UNLV, No. 41 Texas Tech and No. 44 Chattanooga. Georgia Southern, San Francisco, Virginia, Charlotte and Valparaiso round out the field. Four teams in the field - New Mexico, Chattanooga, Charlotte and Valparaiso - earned automatic bids after winning their respective conference championships. The Gamecocks faced six teams from the field during the regular season and compiled a 9-5 head-to-head record against those teams.

“The Scarlet Course should be good set-up for our team,” McDonald said. “It has traditionally been a stern test, and I expect it to play long and tough. We have a lot very good teams in our regional and we will have to play well this week to advance. We have had a good couple of weeks preparation, and I expect good things from the guys this week.”

The Gamecocks are making their 21st NCAA Regional appearance, including their 16th in the last 17 years. Carolina has advanced to the NCAA Championship 16 times, with the last being in 2009. The Gamecocks won the program’s only regional title in 2007 at the ASU Karsten Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz., and went on to finish tied for 11th at the NCAA Championship that year. George Bryan IV (T-10th), Mark Anderson (T-18th) and Florian Fritsch (T-18th) all finished in the top 20 to lead the way. The Gamecocks have also finished runner-up in 1999 and 2009. Individually, Kyle Thompson was a two-time regional medalist for Carolina, finishing first outright in 1999 and tying for first in 2001.

Carolina will tee off in the first round on Thursday at 8:20 a.m. off the 10th tee and will be paired with Missouri and UNLV. Live scoring will be available at golfstatresults.com.

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