The Stetson University men’s and women’s golf squads will team up for the opening weekend of the 2013-14 season.
The Hatters will compete in the GolfWeek Magazine Program Challenge for a second consecutive year, and will be looking to improve on their overall 10th place finish in the 12-team event from last year.
The Tournament is held in Pawley’s Island, SC, and will start on Sunday, September 8. The 12 men’s teams will compete at the True Blue Plantation while the 12 women’s teams will play the Caledonia Golf Course.
Both teams will look a little different to start the year, with a pair of freshmen earning a spot on the travel squad through qualifying for both teams.
For the men, freshmen Dirk Kuehler was the medalist in the team's first fall qualifier, leading the Hatters with a one over par score of 217 for the 54-hole event.
“This was a good start to the year,” first year Hatters coach Larry Watson said. “I think these 11 young men are on a mission, they know their goals for the season and they are pushing each other to play as well as they can.”
Only nine shots separated the medalist from the fifth spot for the opening tournament. That was claimed by fellow freshman Zach Stark in a sudden death playoff with junior co-captain Matt Taylor. Both tied at 11 over par for the 54 holes.
“It is tough playing against your friends and teammates, but that completion will make this team get better and better,” Watson said. “I really think this team is a bit embarrassed that we haven't won a conference championship since the early 90's and they want to do something about that right now.
Three returning players, all sophomores who are coming off successful rookie seasons, will join with the two freshmen.
Andrew Peterson posted 78.07 scoring average last year and had one top 10 finish. Michael Primavera had an even 78 stroke average and Dustin Dingus led the team with a 74.61 average.
The Stetson women have the same coach, but will feature a pair of freshmen in the lineup to start the year. Seniors Sammi Smith and Jenna Hoecker led qualifying. Hoecker is coming off a strong summer which included a title run in the New York State Amateur Matchplay Tournament.
Smith also had success over the summer and came into the fall determined to play more consistently.
“All of our returning players are much better,” Stetson coach Floyd Kerr said. “They are almost hard to recognize because they have improved so much.”
Smith, who Kerr challenged to increase her pace of play, opened the 54-hole qualifier with a 69 to set the tone.
“The thing about qualifying that jumped out was that all five players had at least one round under par,” Kerr said. “That tells me they are all capable of going low in any round. If you can get two to go low every day then you will have a chance to beat a lot of teams.”
The third senior to qualify was Mallory Viera, who captured the Florida State Amateur matchplay title over the summer. She had to work, however, to make the travel team, storming from behind with a final round score of 68 to move up from sixth place to fourth.
“She played very conservative in the final round because she knew she had to,” Kerr said. “She is capable of doing that every day if she will just keep that conservative approach. She just has to understand that a lot of time, par is a good score.”
The tournament format for the Program Challenge includes individual titles for both the men and women’s teams, as well as an overall title for lowest combined score.
Campbell dominated the event last year, winning the women’s tournament by 40 shots over second place Central Arkansas. UCA won the men’s tournament, but the Camels still took the overall title by 24 shots.
The field for the tournament his year includes the defending champions as well as other returning schools Jacksonville State, James Madison, Northern Iowa, Western Carolina and Boston College. New to the tournament this year will be Akron, Valparaiso, IUPUI, Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion.
“Campbell steam-rolled the tournament last year,” Kerr said. “They will be the favorites again this year. Boston College and James Madison should also be good. We can finish in the top three this year, but with two freshmen, you never know.If we play anything close to what we are capable of, then we can be in the top three.”
The teams will travel on Friday before playing practice rounds on Saturday. The tournament will include single rounds of competition on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.