April 1, 2011
Tennessee's drive for an NCAA regional bid begins Saturday at the Insperity Augusta State Invitational in Augusta, Ga.
That's because despite being 35th in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin ratings and 36th according to Golfstat.com, the Vols' won-lost record for the season is below the magic .500 mark required for an NCAA at-large bid. UT's record, factoring in the teams Tennessee has beaten, lost to or tied through eight tournaments this season, stands at 52-55-3.
The Vols have qualified for the last 11 NCAA regional tournaments.
"Since the second tournament of the fall, we've been battling back to achieve a .500 winning percentage," said head coach Jim Kelson. The Vols finished 14th out of 17 teams at Chicago's Windon Memorial in September. "Having a tough result in the second tournament of the year put us behind the Eight Ball, and we've been battling that out ever since."
UT dropped to as low as 17-34-3 after tying for 11th at the elite Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in late October, but spring has been a better story.
Rebounded in Spring
Tennessee resumed play in February with consecutive finishes of sixth, fifth and fourth to briefly climb above water at 47-46-3, only to slide back to their present position after a 10th-place result two weeks ago at the Schenkel Invitational. That afternoon, one stroke fewer on the team score would have been an overall tie for seventh.
"I think we had done a nice job of working our way out of that hole, and then we ran into a roadblock at the Schenkel and had a poor last round," Kelson said. "So now it is up to the next two tournaments. Our postseason hopes are resting on that and we've got to have two really solid tournaments."
Saturday's play at Forest Hills Golf Club (Par 72, 7,029 yards) begins with 36 holes and includes another stellar field. The nation's top three squads -- No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Alabama -- according to both Golfweek/Sagarin and Golfstat.com headline a 16-team field. Others sporting lofty rankings include Illinois (8/11), host and defending NCAA champion Augusta State (9/6), Washington (20/22), Clemson (33/31) and Virginia Tech (45/42).
Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Houston, Lamar, South Carolina and USC Aiken round out this year's field for the tournament, which concludes Sunday with 18 holes.
Wingardh owns seven top-20 finishes this year in eight events, with a stroke average of 72.21. Porteous is next at 74.24 and hasn't finished outside the top-30 this spring. Renwick is at 74.79 and put together back-to-back par rounds at the recent Schenkel. Vandeventer is next at 75.05, with Keddie at 76.00.
After this weekend, the Vols return to Georgia in two weeks for the SEC Championship on April 15-17 at St. Simons Island. NCAA regionals are May 19-21.