BY DANIEL LOCKE
FOR THE OBSERVER
The Auburn Tigers golf team is in a good position to accomplish big things in 2023. After having the third-best finish in school history last season, the sky is the limit for the Tigers.
Auburn has not been caught looking back to last season — the exact opposite is true — as the Tigers have set a record for the best start in school history.
“We’ll play some good golf,” said head coach Nick Clinard on the key to getting off to a hot start. “I mean guys played very well, we got off to a hot start out in Scottsdale with the Maui Jim and shot 45 under par and beat a really good field. We just kinda continued that confidence and kind of got the ball rolling. We’re making a lot of putts and the guys just played very well. We got a deep team; we got a talented team, so it didn’t really surprise me they performed at a high level.”
A big part of Auburn’s early success can be attributed to returning all five of last year’s starters.
“Well, I think it’s good for maturity,” Clinard said on the benefit of having an experienced lineup. “It’s good for that locker room, the culture and we also have some other guys that are really pushing these guys to get better. I think our depth is phenomenal and they’re working hard. Like I said, we’re a really talented team and I’m really proud of them.”
Auburn has put the nation on notice of its talent as the Tigers are ranked No. 2 in all three major polls.
“Expectations to me are very result driven and result oriented,” Clinard said on his expectations for the team. “I don’t really get involved with that too much, we talk about standards a lot. What are our standards academically, athletically, socially and spiritually? We just try to keep our standards very high with our work ethic, our character and our integrity. Control the stuff that we can control. We fall in love with the process and results will come with that.”
With last year’s team achieving the third-highest finish in school history, there will be a lot of pressure to top it in 2023.
“I think it helps when you have that nucleus of guys coming back that have experienced it and tasted it,” Clinard said on what it will take to achieve another high finish. “We had a young team last year and having everybody back, we just kind of keep doing what we do and we just kind of chip away and try to get better every month and every week. Then hopefully at the end of the year, we’re playing some of our best golf.”
Auburn will be hosting a regional in the NCAA Tournament which will be beneficial to the team as they compete with some of the nation’s best.
“It’s huge,” Clinard said. “Anytime you sleep in your own bed and [get] be in your own environment. The little stuff matters like knowing where the locker room is, the food and the whole deal. It’s just different when you travel versus competing at home. Then obviously the knowledge with the golf course helps them feel more comfortable on the tee boxes and certain puts than other teams will.”
As talented as this team appears to be, even more talent is on the way as Auburn has signed the No. 3 recruiting class for next season, including No. 1 recruit Jackson Koivun.
“It’s great,” Clinard said. “I mean, you got three guys coming in that are ultra-talented and have a high drive for the game. Obviously, Jackson (Koivun) kind of headlines the class, he is the best player in the country and he’s dynamic, he’s a difference maker. I think he’s an instant All-American type player. Then obviously you know, Cayden (Pope) and Josiah (Gilbert) are very, very good players as well and they’ll be pushing hard for playing time because they can compete at a high level too.”
Auburn is hosting the Tiger Invitational at Grand National in Opelika on March 5 through March 7. This is one of the biggest events of the season for the Tigers.
“Yeah, we’re looking forward to it,” Clinard said. “It’s just an opportunity to play at home. You know, you get to play in front of your donors and your fans and your families. We don’t get to do that a lot in our sport, so it’s nice to have a home tournament and we look forward to getting out there and competing and hopefully coming out on top.”
There is a lot of potential for 2023 to be a season to remember for the Auburn Tigers golf team. The talent is there and so is the coaching.