May 17, 2011
Tennessee begins its bid to qualify for a third straight trip to the NCAA Men's Golf Championship when regional action opens Thursday for the Vols in Zionsville, Ind.
Not since the 1995-97 Tennessee squads advanced to three straight finals has UT had such an opportunity, and head coach Jim Kelson says his team needs to keep its spring surge going.
"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.
Tennessee is seeded sixth this week out of 14 teams vying for five spots in the NCAA finals. The schedule calls for 18 holes Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Wolf Run Golf Course on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
"It's supposed to be a great golf course, a great test," Kelson said. "Our team enjoys competing on really good courses, and, honestly, this regional might have been our first choice."
12th Straight NCAA Bid
This year's selection marks Tennessee's 12th consecutive NCAA bid in 13 seasons under Kelson, extending the school record.
Tennessee secured its place in the NCAA field thanks to a strong stretch run. The Vols 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.
Six of Tennessee's 14 regional opponents have 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.