New look Men's Golf searching for chemistry heading into 2012
By Jim O'Hara
ROME – Strength through numbers will be a constant theme for the Shorter University men's golf team this year as the Hawks begin the season poised to make sure the program works its way back into the postseason spotlight.
Although the Hawks will be without the services of two-time NAIA All-American Arvid Bengtson, who capped his four-year career last season earning the Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Year award after winning the SSAC tournament, Shorter head coach Greg Owens feels that the depth the team enjoys this time around will produce results.
"We've basically had to rebuild the team and it's wide open as far as who will play," said Owens, who took the team to last year's NAIA National Tournament after ending the regular season ranked No. 9 in the nation. Owens starts the 2012 campaign with 17 golfers on the roster, nine of them freshmen.
"A lot of them have similar abilities," the coach said. "We're playing a lot of qualifying rounds to see who will play. So far, many of the freshmen are playing a little bit better."
What helps in the rebuilding process is the fact that the Hawks, who open the new season today at the Coastal Georgia Invitational at St. Simon's Island, have plenty of experience to go along with the newcomers.
Three veterans who represented SU at the 2011 national tournament return to give the Hawks a firm foundation – senior Nico Van Rensburg of South Africa and a pair of sophomores in former Coosa High standout Ethan Lambert and Matt Youmans from Lawrenceville.
Seniors Winston Gibbs of Hartwell and Joel Early of Fort Payne, Ala., also are back trying to earn a spot on the links for the Hawks, as are juniors Tyler Steptoe of Richmond Hill and Pepperell-product Todd Burkhalter of Silver Creek, and sophomore Nick Burns of Peachtree City.
The Hawks will most certainly be looking for immediate help from their freshmen.
First-year golfers Patric Sundlof of Sweden, Robert Prior of England, Oliver Larsson of Sweden and Gabriel Cassinelli of Brazil showed some signs in the fall that they have the game to give the team low rounds. The remainder of the freshmen class seeking playing time includes Jordan Starnes of Rockmart, Dalton Robinson of Buchanan, Juan Camilo Giraldo of Columbia, Nick Shay of Fort Payne, Ala., and Jack Tetsworth of Australia.
"They're fearless," Owens said of the freshmen. "They attack the golf course and when it's successful, they have a good round. When it's not, the team finishes down in the standings, but it's good to have a large number of competitive golfers who love to compete with themselves."
Owens saw the competitive nature of the team last fall when Shorter turned in three top-three preseason tournament finishes with a lineup that varied with each event.
"We tried to give everybody a chance to play in tournaments to see what they needed to work on and how they played under pressure," Owens said. "And in the first two tournaments this spring everyone should play to see where they are under pressure.
"We'll be under the radar when the season begins and that gives us a chance to surprise people," the coach added. "We just have to be consistent."