BY WIL CREWS
Southern Union mens’ golf team played up to nationally-ranked standards last week in its first ever NJCAA tournament in Cullman, Alabama.
The five-man, all-freshmen Bison kicked off the Dan York Memorial, hosted by Wallace State, on Monday with an opening two-round team score of 581 (292, 289), good enough to position them fourth overall heading into the final round.
“I’d like to mention how well they are representing the school and the community,” said Southern Union head golf coach Jamie McQuaker.
On Tuesday, with a first-place finish realistically out of the picture, the Bison had their sights set on the podium. Southern Union found itself trailing third place Calhoun Community College (ranked No. 9 in the Sept. 20 NJCAA D1 Men’s Coaches Poll) by just seven strokes.
Round three proved fruitful for the experience-laden Bison, as Southern Union shot a team- and program-best 286 — the first under par round in SU history. The collective performance was not enough to see Southern Union move up in the rankings, however, but the unranked Bison finished fourth in a tournament that boasted eight of the top-20 teams in the country.
“We’re doing this with five freshmen.” McQuaker said. “When you are competing with those guys, that is going to give you confidence and something to build off of. A lot of these schools have been around for 20 or 30 years. They are well-established programs and we beat a lot of them. For their first tournament, [to finish] fourth is unbelievable.”
Thomas McClellan led the way for Southern Union in round three, shooting a 2-under, 70. The score was good enough for sixth amongst the entire field in the final round, and placed him fifth overall for the tournament.
“Thomas is a local guy,” McQuaker said. “He was at Southern Union before the program started, but he’s just a really efficient player, good ball striker, manages the game well and just doesn’t make a lot of big mistakes. So, he’s never going to shoot any kind of high numbers.”
Sean David and Kenny Okins both shot an even 72 in the final round, while finishing 2-under and 4-over on the tournament, respectively. David’s performance would be enough to secure a No. 10 finish overall.
“He’s played for his country,” McQuaker said of David, who is originally from Wales. “He’s played at the highest level in European amateur golf, so, you know, I expected him to do that.”
Overall, the young team was led by McClellan, who shot a 2-under par, 69, in the first round, and a par, 72, in the second. David improved throughout the tournament and hit the next-best round of day one, shooting a par, 72, in the first round, followed by a 2-under, 70, in the second. Okins shot a combined score of 148 (4-over) in the first two rounds; Peyton Bradley shot a 6-over, 150; and Tommy Popp rounded out the bunch with a 10-over, 154.
The performance was a such a positive start to Southern Union’s inaugural season that the Bison already jumped from unranked to No. 19 in the Sept. 20 NJCAAA Men’s Golf Coaches Poll.
The next test for Southern Union will come Oct. 3 to 5. at Lagoon Park in Montgomery.
“That’s a who’s-who of junior college golf,” McQuaker said.
The head coach sees the tournament as a potential springboard toward good results later in the season.
“As these guys grow and get more familiar with the process and the golf courses, I think the results are only going to continue to get better,” he said. “I don’t think they are playing above their level. I think we can crack the top-10 in the country, I really do.”