USC Men Ready To Tee Off SEC Championship

COLUMBIA, S.C (USC SID) — The sixth-ranked South Carolina men‘s golf team begins postseason play this weekend at the SEC Championship. The 54-hole event will be contested Friday through Sunday on the par-70, 7,055-yard Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga. TOURNAMENT CENTRAL Dates: Friday, April 17-Sunday, April 19 Location: Sea Island Golf Club (Par: 70, Yards: 7,055) – St. Simons Island, Ga. Lineup 1. Matt NeSmith (Avg.: 70.59, Top 5/10/20: 2/4/6, Low Round: 67) 2. Will Starke (Avg.: 69.70, Top 5/10/20: 6/6/8, Low Round: 63) 3. Caleb Sturgeon (Avg.: 71.85, Top 5/10/20: 2/3/4, Low Round: 66) 4. Will Murphy (Avg.: 71.88, Top 5/10/20: 0/2/4, Low Round: 66) 5. Sean Kelly (Avg.: 72.71, Top 5/10/20: 0/1/4, Low Round: 67) Field: 14 teams (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt) Carolina‘s First-Round Tee Time: 7:30 a.m. (Paired with Vanderbilt, LSU) Live Scoring: From the Coach “Sea Island is always dependent upon the wind,” South Carolina head coach Bill McDonald said. “There are not a lot of trees. It‘s pretty open. I think two years ago it became pretty close to unplayable when we had some 30-mile per hour gusts. Last year we didn‘t have any wind hardly. It was soft and warm, so it played relatively easy. Right now there is some rain in the forecast, so it looks like conditions could tend to be on the soft side. If we get some wind with that, it will definitely play really difficult. The field is always great. It‘s the SEC Championship. That‘s all you have to say. It‘s one of those tournament that there is so much depth in our conference that anyone can win it.” Gamecocks at the SEC Championship Carolina is making its 24th appearance at the SEC Championship and will look to win its first SEC title. The Gamecocks have finished runner-up three times, finishing one stroke back of first in 1998, eight strokes back in 2008 and two strokes back in 2013. Eric Ecker is the only Gamecock to win medalist honors at the SEC Championship as he won the rain-shortened event in 1998 with rounds of 70 and 66 in Athens, Ga. George Bryan IV came close to winning at the 2010 SEC Championship, tying for first before losing in a playoff to Georgia‘s Russell Henley. Last Time at the SEC Championship At the 2014 SEC Championship, Carolina claimed fifth place with a 54-hole total of 838 (-2), which is the lowest 54-hole SEC Championship total in school history. Alabama won its third-straight SEC title with a total of 806 (-34). Will Murphy led the Gamecocks with a tie for fifth finish with a total of 205 (-5). Matt NeSmith tied for 21st with a total of 210 (E), while Will Starke (211), Ben Dietrich (217) and Caleb Sturgeon (218) finished tied for 26th, 43rd and 51st, respectively. SEC Championship History This year marks the 76th playing of the SEC Championship. Ten current SEC programs have won at least one SEC title, with Georgia leading the way with 28. Florida has won 15 titles, followed by LSU (15), Alabama (5), Auburn (3), Tennessee (3), Mississippi State (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (1) and Ole Miss (1). Georgia Tech also won an SEC Championship in 1949. The championship is being held at Sea Island Golf Club for the 15th time. This marks the 13th time the championship has been contested on the Seaside Course. Breaking Down the Field The SEC continues to prove it is one of the most talented golf conferences in the country. Nine of the 14 teams are ranked in the top 50 of the latest Golfstat Relative Rankings, including five in the top 25. Vanderbilt is the highest-ranked league team at No. 5, followed by the Gamecocks (No. 6), LSU (No. 7), Auburn (No. 15), defending SEC and national champion Alabama (No. 25), Arkansas (No. 30), Georgia (No. 34), Florida (No. 37), Texas A&M (No. 39), Ole Miss (No. 51), Missouri (No. 60), Tennessee (No. 61), Kentucky (No. 68) and Mississippi State (No. 128). Nine of the 14 league teams have won at least one tournament this season and have combined for 21 titles. The Gamecocks lead the SEC with five tournament titles, while Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Missouri have each won three tournaments. Carolina has competed against all but one SEC team this season (Mississippi State) and has a 17-4 head-to-head record against league teams heading into the weekend. High Five The Gamecocks have won a school-record five tournament titles this season, including three during the spring schedule. Carolina set the record by shooting a final-round 271 (-17) to capture the Hootie at Bulls Bay title on March 31 with a total of 838 (-26). Built to Finish Carolina has held the 36-hole lead in three tournaments this season and went on to win the tournament title each time. The Gamecocks held on to win the Bayou City Collegiate Championship on Feb. 22 by two strokes, the Palmetto Intercollegiate on March 10 by one stroke over rival Clemson and the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate on March 31 by 11 strokes. Extending the Streak The Gamecocks have finished in the top five in a school-record eight-straight events, with seven being top-three showings. Carolina has finished in the top five in 17 of its last 19 events dating back to last season, including eight tournament wins. Protecting the Palmetto State Carolina has played in three tournaments in South Carolina this season and won all three titles. The Gamecocks won the Camden Collegiate Invitational (Camden, S.C.), the Palmetto Intercollegiate (Aiken, S.C.) and the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C.). Records Set to Fall The Gamecocks are on pace to set several single-season school records. Carolina‘s team scoring average is currently 281.46, which is six strokes lower than the school record of 287.46 set by last year‘s squad. Junior Will Starke‘s stroke average of 69.70 is 1.65 strokes lower than the school record of 71.35 held by George Bryan IV (2009-10). Junior Matt NeSmith (2nd – 70.59), senior Caleb Sturgeon (5th – 71.85) and senior Will Murphy (6th – 71.88) also rank in the top six on the single season-season scoring average list. Starke has tied the single-season record for top-five finishes with six with the SEC Championship and at least the NCAA Regionals left on the schedule. Three Straight a First The Gamecocks became the first team in Carolina history to win three straight tournaments with their victory at the Palmetto Intercollegiate. Carolina won the Camden Collegiate Invitational to close out the fall and opened the spring with a win at the Bayou City Collegiate Championship before winning the Palmetto. Palmer Cup Bound? Junior Will Starke is playing some of the best golf of his career this season and could be rewarded with a spot on the United States Palmer Cup Team. Starke currently is ranked eighth in the Team USA Palmer Cup standings. The top six golfers from the final ranking (April 17) will be among the 10 individuals selected to compete. The remaining four golfers will be selected using three committee picks and one coaches pick. Starke has finished in the top 15 in eight of nine events this season, including six top fives and a tournament win, and he won his match against Virginia‘s Ji Soo Park. His six top-five finishes are tied for the most in a single season in school history with Kyle Thompson (1998-99). Starke has also shot in the 60s 17 times, and his stroke average of 69.70 ranks third in the SEC and seventh nationally. League Leaders The Gamecocks enter the weekend ranked first in the SEC in tournament wins (5) and in team scoring average (281.46). Carolina also has four golfers in the top 20 in the SEC in scoring average, as Will Starke ranks third (69.46), Matt NeSmith ranks eighth (70.59), Caleb Sturgeon ranks 15th (71.85) and Will Murphy ranks 16th (71.88). McDonald‘s 14 Gamecock head coach Bill McDonald is the winningest coach by tournament victories in school history with 14. McDonald broke the previous record of nine held by Puggy Blackmon (1995-2007) with Carolina‘s win at the Carpet Capital Collegiate this fall. The Gamecocks then gave McDonald his 11th tournament title with a win at the Camden Collegiate Invitational to close out the fall. Carolina opened the spring by winning the Bayou City Collegiate Championship and then won the Palmetto Intercollegiate. Carolina set the school record for wins in a season by claiming its fifth tournament title with a win at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate to close out the regular season. Consensus Top 10 The Gamecocks have consistently been ranked in the top 25 in the golf rankings the last two seasons but they enter the SEC Championship a consensus top-10 team. Carolina is currently ranked No. 6 in the Golfstat Relative Rankings, No. 5 in the Bushnell Golfweek Coaches Poll and No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Gamecocks in the Golfstat Statistics Rankings As a team South Carolina ranks third in the nation in average score (71.51) and fourth versus par (+0.17). The Gamecocks are 11th in par-3 scoring (3.13), fourth in par-4 scoring (4.05) and 14th in par-5 scoring (4.75). Carolina is tied for eighth in eagles (19) and ranks ninth in subpar strokes per round (3.57). Individually, junior Will Starke ranks seventh nationally in scoring average (69.70), ninth versus par (-1.63), ninth in par-4 scoring (3.95), tied for first in eagles (9) and tied for sixth in subpar strokes per round (4.70). Junior Matt NeSmith ranks 20th in par-4 scoring (3.98). Rewriting the Record Book Seniors Caleb Sturgeon and Will Murphy and juniors Will Starke and Matt NeSmith continue to climb up South Carolina‘s career scoring average list. Starke currently ranks first all-time with an average of 71.79, while NeSmith isn‘t far behind in second with an average of 71.94. Sturgeon ranks fourth all-time with an average of 72.72, while Murphy is sixth with an average of 73.04. Starke also has 11 career top-five finishes, which is tied for the third most all-time at Carolina with George Bryan IV (2006-10). NeSmith is tied for the sixth most career top-five finishes with eight. Among the Best in the World South Carolina senior Will Murphy and junior Matt NeSmith are ranked in the top 150 in the latest Golfweek/ World Player Rankings. Murphy is No. 31 in the world and No. 16 in the U.S., while NeSmith is No. 113 in the world and No. 48 in the U.S. In the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings, Murphy is ranked No. 62, junior Will Starke is No. 74 and NeSmith is No. 85.

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