Georgia golf enters NCAA championships confident it can win

Georgia senior Trent Phillips is one of five UGA players competing in the NCAA Championships this weekend at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo from UGA Athletics)
Georgia senior Trent Phillips is one of five UGA players competing in the NCAA Championships this weekend at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo from UGA Athletics)

ATHENS — If you listened to the national narrative, you would think Georgia men’s golf this year was Davis Thompson and the four dwarfs. It certainly looked that way when Thompson shot 14 under on his own ball to take medalist honors in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional and the Bulldogs shot 17 under as a team to finish second.

But coach Chris Haack insists there’s more to his team than one very special player. We’ll soon find out if he’s right, as the 12th-seeded Bulldogs enter the NCAA championships this week at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Practice rounds were under way Thursday, and Georgia will tee off at 3:47 p.m. Friday along with No. 10 Arizona State and No. 11 Vanderbilt for the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the tournament. While that will represent the Bulldogs’ first look at Grayhawk, they spent the previous two days in Arizona playing other desert courses to gain some familiarity with playing desert golf.

That move already has resulted in some insights.

“The ball’s definitely flying a little farther,” fifth-year senior Spencer Ralston said. “So, we’re going to get out there a little early for our practice round, and we brought a TrackMan that we use back home that will show how far our clubs are going. … A lot of us have hit it long on a lot of shots. That’s going be the biggest thing, just knowing how far we’re hitting our stuff and having confidence in that. We don’t want to be second-guessing ourselves once it’s game time.”

Everybody is looking at Georgia – a two-time national champion – as a contender simply because it has one of the nation’s best players in Thompson. That distinction was validated this week when Thompson was named one of the 10 members of the final watch list for the Haskins Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate golfer. The three finalists will be announced June 1 following the voting that is open to all Division I male players, head and assistant coaches, sports information directors, and select college golf media members.

Georgia’s Russell Henley won the Haskins Award in 2010.

Thompson also is one of the three finalists for the Ben Hogan Award and was named the SEC Golfer of the Year. He leads the SEC with a scoring average of 69.48, and 16 of his 27 rounds have been in the 60s. He currently stands No. 2 in the PGA Tour University rankings.

So, Georgia knows it can count on Thompson to score. But to win a national championship, the Bulldogs will need four players to go low simultaneously. That wasn’t the case when they finished in second in the Tallahassee Regional, 17 strokes behind FSU. But Haack believes it can be the case in Scottsdale.

“You’ve really got to have all five guys kind of making it happen,” Haack said. “Davis could play great, but if the other four guys don’t play well it doesn’t do you any good. You’ve got to have some help in the lineup with those (Nos.) 2 through 5 guys. Luckily for us, Trent (Phillips) is a very veteran player, Spencer is a very veteran player. But I think the two guys who’ve come the farthest for us are Connor Creasy and Eli Scott, who have gotten better and better as the year’s gone on.”

The Bulldogs have been able to win two tournaments and finish second in three others this season. They feel like they have to good ones to win another one in Arizona.

“There’s a fine line between expectations and confidence,” said Phillips, who ranks second on the team with a 70.78 stroke average. “For me, I just want to approach it with confidence, put in the work and just go play golf. It’s going to be what it’s going to be is what I’ve learned.”

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