Garber and ‘The Beard’ lead Bulldogs golf into NCAAs

The comments Joey Garber hears on the golf course and when he travels with the Georgia Bulldogs are predictable.

“Hey, are you on ‘Duck Dynasty’?”

“Lose your razor, buddy?”

But the truth is the bushy, brown beard that consumes his face and spills into the neck of his golf shirt has meaning for him and his teammates. It’s sort of a rallying point, a whiskery bushel of pride.

Coach Chris Haack explains.

“Back in the fall he didn’t shave for the Kiawah (S.C.) tournament (The Invitational) on The Ocean Course,” Haack said. “Then he went out and shot 28 on the back side and won the tournament by nine (strokes). That’s when everybody said, ‘well, you can’t shave now.’ Being the superstitious coach that I am, I merely said, ‘hey, as long as you’re playing good I don’t care.’”

With the team grooming policy cast aside, Garber and the Bulldogs continue to play well. Last weekend, they won the San Antonio Regional by 13 shots to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Hutchinson, Kan., and will be in search of the program’s third national championship when they tee off at 1:40 p.m. Friday. The Bulldogs will be the No. 6 seed.

Georgia Tech (No. 4 seed), Kennesaw State (No. 26) and Georgia State (No. 29) also are in the field in Hutchinson.

Garber and his beard will tee off first for the Bulldogs. Not only is he the team captain and No. 1 player, he recorded six top-10 finishes in 10 tournaments this season and rose to the No. 1 national ranking. He enters the weekend ranked No. 5 individually and is one of 10 national semifinalists for the Ben Hogan Award, the Heisman trophy of collegiate golf.

Garber also is on pace to establish a school record for scoring average. He carries a 70.66 mark into nationals while Chris Kirk holds the UGA record at 70.90.

“He’s had a terrific year,” Haack said. “He’s not only a good player, but he’s been a good leader. He’s the team captain, and he does a good job of keeping the guys focused. He’s been one of the better leaders I’ve ever had in terms of a guy who relates well with all the other guys. And he keeps the team chemistry light.”

Actually the Grizzly Adams look is not much of a stretch for this senior from Petosky, Mich. While he does a lot more golfing than hunting and fishing, Garber considers himself an outdoorsman. And when it comes to grooming, he’s not one to rush to the barber every week or to shave every day.

“I’m sort of that type of guy,” said Garber, who transferred to Georgia from Michigan as a sophomore in 2012. “Maybe it’s just laziness, but I’m usually not clean-shaven. But it doesn’t usually look like this.”

As might be expected, Garber’s look and his game have brought him some unexpected attention this season.

“It’s been a good distraction,” he said. “It’s been fun. It’s something that the guys have sort of rallied around, and it’s something that comes up every once in a while. But I think it’s been fun for all of us.”

Garber is an atypical golfer in other ways, too. Unlike many of the nation’s top collegiate golfers, he’s not a big bomber who overpowers doglegs with 330-yard drives. He wows his teammates and competitors with a unique ability to produce whatever kind of shot a situation might call for.

“He’s the kind of guy who hits shots,” Haack said. “He can hit it low and hook it; he can hit it high and fade it. He just kind of does whatever the shot entails and gets the ball in the hole and that’s one of his strengths.”

Garber’s style is inspiring his younger teammates. All-SEC freshman Greyson Siggs fired a 68 in the first round in San Antonio and finished ninth. He hasn’t shaved since and will sport a full beard in Kansas.

“We’re big believers in ‘The Mo,’” said Siggs, meaning momentum. “We played well last week and I didn’t shave, so I decided to keep it going into nationals.”

Hey, it has worked well to this point.