Gamecocks Tee Off At NCAA Championship Tuesday

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By Sports Department

COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) -- The 20th-ranked South Carolina men's golf team is set to make its first appearance at the NCAA Championship since 2009 as it is among 30 teams that will play for the national title this week at the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course in Milton, Ga.

The teams will play three rounds of stroke play on the par-70, 7,319-yard layout from Tuesday through Thursday before the field is cut down to eight teams for three days of match play, culminating with the national championship match on Sunday.

The Gamecocks enter the week playing their best golf of the season as they are coming off a tie for second finish at the NCAA Columbus Regional and a runner-up finish at the SEC Championship in April.

"We are excited and are looking forward to the NCAA Championship," said South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald, who has led the Gamecocks to a pair of NCAA Championship appearances. "We have had an excellent week of preparation, and I think the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club sets up well for us. It has been a fun and exciting year for our program, and we hope to send our senior captain Dykes Harbin out in style."

South Carolina will field the same lineup that came up just short of winning the SEC Championship and Columbus Regional. In his final tournament as a Gamecock, Harbin will occupy the No. 1 position. Sophomore Caleb Sturgeon, freshmen Matt NeSmith and Will Starke and sophomore Sean Kelly will play in spots two through five. All five golfers are making their first NCAA Championship appearance.

Harbin, Sturgeon and NeSmith have been the heart of South Carolina's lineup all season. The trio has combined for 15 top-10 finishes, including a pair of tournament wins. Harbin, who was named second team All-SEC, is second on the team in stroke average (72.94), tied for second with six top-20 finishes and is tied for the team lead with two top-five showings. Sturgeon ranks third on the squad with an average of 73.36 and he is tied for second in top-20 finishes with six. NeSmith, the SEC Freshman of the Year, leads the squad in stroke average (72.85) and top-20 finishes with nine. His seven top-10 finishes are tied for the second most all-time in a single season at South Carolina.

Starke has come on strong in the spring and is coming off a tie for ninth showing at the Columbus Regional. He ranks fifth on the team with a scoring average of 74.33. Kelly, who is coming off a tie for 48th showing at the Columbus Regional, is in the lineup for the sixth time this season and has compiled a stroke average of 75.06.

The Gamecocks are making their 17th trip to the NCAA Championship and their first since 2009. Carolina's best finish at the event was a tie for eighth finish at the 1988 NCAA Championship at North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Carolina posted a total of 1,186 that year, which is the fourth lowest 72-hole total in school history. The Gamecocks have come close to breaking into the top 10 on two other occasions, finishing 11th in 1998 and tied for 11th in 2007. The 2007 squad set the school record for 72 holes with a total of 1,136. In their last NCAA Championship appearance, the Gamecocks claimed 16th place in 2009 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Mark Silvers tied for 18th to lead the way, shooting rounds of 74-69-72=216.

This year's 30-team championship field features 29 teams ranked in the Golfstat Top 50. Top-ranked California enters the week as one of the favorites to make it to match play after winning an NCAA-record 11 tournaments this season. Defending national champion Texas and No. 2 Alabama are back in the mix and will be joined by Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Ball State, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kent State, LSU, New Mexico, North Florida, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Saint Mary's, Southern Cal, Tennessee, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, UCLA, UCF, UNLV and Washington. The Gamecocks have faced 18 teams in this year's field and have compiled a 15-15-2 head-to-head record against those teams.

The Gamecocks will tee off in the first round on Tuesday at 7:20 a.m. off the 10th tee and will be paired with Texas A&M and Saint Mary's. Live scoring will be available here. A live webcast will also be available from Thursday through Sunday at NCAA.com.

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