The Georgia State men’s golf team is peaking at the right time.
The Panthers capped a school-record three-tournament win streak by taking the Sun Belt tournament, which came with an automatic berth into an NCAA regional. Georgia State will play in the San Antonio regional in a 13-team group that includes Georgia, UCLA and Georgia Southern. The regionals begin May 15.
“We’ve made steps,” coach Joe Inman said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve made strides.”
The key, Inman says, is confidence.
The Panthers won one tournament, the Autotrader.com Collegiate Classic that they hosted in October, before starting their winning streak with a tie for first at the Furman Intercollegiate. The players weren’t happy with a tie and wanted a playoff. Inman advised them not to worry because he knew they were good enough. They followed with a victory over 15 teams at the Irish Creek Intercollegiate.
“I’ve been trying to tell them they are better than they think they are, but they have to be more disciplined,” Inman said. “Once they did it, ‘Oh my God, this crazy old guy might not be as crazy as we think he is.’
“They really are beginning to believe they can compete with the best teams. Really compete.”
The key to advancing in the NCAA tournament is depth. There are six regionals. Three regionals will have 14 teams and five individuals. The other three regionals will have 13 teams and 10 individuals. From each, five teams and one individual will advance to the nationals, which will be held at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
The regionals and nationals start with stroke play in which five golfers will compete for each team. The four lowest scores are combined to make the team score each round. More than one high score likely will wreck a team’s chances of advancing.
Inman said the key is not to shoot higher than 74. His five have scoring averages during the season that range from Jonathan Grey’s 72.97 to Nathan Mallonee’s 74.41. With one exception, their scoring averages during the winning streak are significantly better. Grey (70.22) and Davin White (73 in the season, 71.33 during the streak) are shooting more than two strokes better. Damon Stephenson and Tyler Gruca shot slightly better for a team average of 72.66 during the streak and 73.59 during the season.
Should the Panthers advance past the stroke-play portion in nationals they will reach the match-play portion, which some consider to be the portion that gives every team a chance.
“This is a team peaking at the right time, they have won three straight events, including the Sun Belt Conference last week,” Golf Channel’s Steve Burkowski said. “Damon Stephenson is playing some good golf, and it’s something you guys talked about, when you get to match play, maybe a little bit of a different animal, I think it opens up avenues for more teams, and I’m a big believer (in playing) well at the right time of the season, and right now, Georgia State is doing just that.”
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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC