May 9, 2011
Tennessee's uphill climb to the NCAA Men's Golf Championship is taking a northerly turn.
The Vols are seeded sixth and headed to Zionsville, Ind., for their NCAA Regional competition, set for May 19-21 at Wolf Run Golf Club just outside Indianapolis.
"It's supposed to be a great golf course, a great test," UT head coach Jim Kelson said. "Our team enjoys competing on really good courses, and, honestly, this regional might have been our first choice."
Monday night's selection marked Tennessee's 12th consecutive NCAA bid in 13 seasons under Kelson, extending the school record.
Tennessee needs a top-five finish at the regional to advance to the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla., but the Vols have met that requirement in four of their last five tournaments against stiff competition. Tennessee placed third at last month's SEC Championship, finishing ahead of four teams ranked among the nation's top 15. Before that, the Vols were second by a stroke on the final hole to No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State at the elite Augusta State Invitational.
"We look forward to continuing our positive progression," Kelson said of his team's improved spring performance. The Vols are up to 23rd in two of the three major polls, the Golf World/Nike Golf Coaches' Poll and the Golfweek/Sagarin Ratings.
And Tennessee will be seeing a few recognizable golf bags next week, with six of the 14 squads having crossed paths with the Vols earlier this season: No. 1-seed Alabama, No. 2 Illinois, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Wake Forest, No. 7 Indiana and No. 9 Michigan.
"We've seen some of those teams seeded higher than us, so there might be something to that," Kelson said of the familiarity factor. "We just know it's a tough field and a tough golf course. But our team's typically been a pretty good ball-striking group, so those courses generally set up pretty good for us."
Tennessee's regional is one of three this year sporting a 14-team field; the other three regionals have 13 teams each. Seeding order for the NCAA Zionsville Regional:
5. Wake Forest
8. Florida State
12. Wichita State
14. Sacred Heart
The low five teams from each of the six regionals and the low individual not on those teams advance to the finals, set for May 31-June 5 at Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla. Playoffs and tie-breakers will be used, if necessary, to determine advancement.
In addition to the 12 consecutive regional bids, UT has advanced to the NCAA finals five times under Kelson -- 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010. The last time Tennessee made three consecutive NCAA Championship appearances was 1995-97 under then head coach Mike Malarkey.
Other SEC teams in this year's field are top-seeded Florida and third-seeded Arkansas headed to Ocala, Fla.; second-seeded LSU and eighth-seeded Mississippi in Radford, Va.; and second-seeded Georgia and third-seeded Auburn set for Erie, Colo. In-state teams joining UT and Memphis in the tournament are sixth-seeded Chattanooga in the Colorado Regional and eighth-seeded Middle Tennessee in San Diego Regional.