May 10, 2010
Tennessee's road to The Honors Course is taking a cross-country swing.
To reach the NCAA Men's Golf Championships at the famed amateur Mecca just down the road in Ooltewah, UT must earn a top-five finish among the 13-team NCAA West Regional field in faraway San Diego.
The fourth-seeded Vols begin play May 20 at Carlton Oaks Golf Club, vying for a return trip to the NCAA finals. Monday night's selections marked Tennessee's 11th consecutive NCAA bid in 12 seasons under head coach Jim Kelson.
"It's time to go play," said Kelson, whose Vols finished second at regionals last year en route to a 12th-place showing at the championship. "Coming off a disappointing SEC tournament, we're looking to rebound and finish off the year in style.
"This team is more than capable of advancing to the national championship again and competing very well against the best teams in the country."
The Vols placed eighth at last month's SEC Championships but won't be bothered by their conference brethren while in California. The SEC led all leagues for the second year in a row with 10 selections among this year's 81-team field, but Tennessee is its lone representative in San Diego.
Tennessee's regional is one of three this year sporting a 13-team field; the other three regionals have 14 teams each. Seeding order for the NCAA West Regional:
3. Augusta State
5. San Diego State
8. Central Florida
10. UC Irvine
12. New Mexico State
13. Oral Roberts
Despite facing no other SEC squads in San Diego, the competition for UT is familiar. The Vols played in tournaments this season against eight of their upcoming 12 opponents: UNLV, Augusta State, San Diego State, California, Chattanooga, Central Florida, Arizona and Missouri.
The low five teams from each of the six regionals and the low individual not on those teams advance to the finals, set for June 2-6 at The Honors Course. Playoffs and tie-breakers will be used, if necessary, to determine advancement.
In addition to the 11 consecutive regional bids, UT has advanced to the NCAA finals four times under Kelson -- 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. The last time Tennessee made back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances was 1995-97 under then head coach Mike Malarkey. Included was the 1996 trip to The Honors Course, where the Vols placed 23rd.
Other SEC teams in this year's field are second-seeded Florida and fifth-seeded LSU headed to South Bend, Ind.; third-seeded South Carolina, fifth-seeded Alabama and 10th-seeded Vanderbilt in New Haven, Conn.; third-seeded Georgia and seventh-seeded Auburn set for College Station, Texas; and fifth-seeded Arkansas and seventh-seeded Mississippi headed to Alpharetta, Ga. In-state teams joining UT, Vandy and Chattanooga in the tournament are sixth-seeded East Tennessee State in New Haven and seventh-seeded Middle Tennessee in Bremerton, Wash.