Oct. 24, 2006
By SEAN MARTIN
Golfweek Assistant Editor
Chris Paisley's parents have a special delivery for this weekend's Isleworth-UCF Collegiate Invitational.
A white belt.
It's all Paisley's Tennessee teammate, Philip Pettitt, needs to complete his "English" outfit. A lot is learned when a roster combines six guys from the Volunteer State (and one from Georgia) with a handful of players from Across the Pond.
Pettitt, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., has the white bell-bottom pants and the mock turtleneck, but needs that final accessory to fit in with Paisley and fellow Englishman, Charles Ford. Apparently, white belts aren't easy to find in Knoxville.
"Me and Charlie are trying to get some culture into these guys about fashion and that kind of stuff," Paisley said. "They haven't got a clue about that kind of thing, so we're trying to teach them."
Not all the Americans have been as quick to pick up the new style as Pettitt, who traveled this summer to England to compete in amateur tournaments. The Volunteers, No. 8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, are still a close-knit bunch.
The team's Englishmen have even picked up an appreciation for the American version of football; Pettitt has molded Ford, his roommate, into an expert NCAA '07 player. Ford will even admit better food can be found in this country, especially "all the unhealthy stuff."
Pettitt, Ford and the rest of the Volunteers won't get to watch the seventh-ranked football team take on Southeastern Conference rival Alabama on Saturday. The golf team will be in Orlando for the first round at Isleworth, where they'll face the likes of Preview champion Florida, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings; No. 4 Clemson; fifth-ranked Oklahoma State; and defending champion Georgia in the 18-team field. Tennessee will be missing Tino Weiss, who will be representing Switzerland at the World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa.
Alabama, winner of its first three starts this year, won't be in the field, but Tennessee got the all-important win over the Tide last weekend at the Bank of Tennessee Classic at The Ridges. Pettitt, whose cell phone plays the school fight song, holed a 14-foot putt on the last hole for a one-shot win over host East Tennessee State. Alabama finished six shots back in fourth.
Tennessee has bonded around adversity. The Volunteers finished second to Alabama at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate this fall despite having just four players for the final two rounds. Jonathan Mount, who finished last year No. 61 in the Golfweek rankings, had to withdraw after an opening 71 because of the same knee injury that forced him to have surgery after last season.
Tennessee was ranked No. 6 after last fall, but suffered through multiple injuries. Pettitt had wrist surgery that kept him out of half of the spring season. In all, the Volunteers were down a man in nine rounds last spring, including the NCAA East Regional, where Mount didn't post a score and spent the tournament on crutches. They finished the season 35th, their worst ranking in five years.
Mount is expected back for the spring season, when Tennessee, after graduating just one player from last year's team, will try to make its third trip to the NCAA Men's Division I Championship since 2001. They'll also compete with Florida, Alabama and Georgia for an SEC title.
"This is a special team," head coach Jim Kelson said. "It's a group you get only a few times in a coaching career. With players like this, you're going to have a chance to do something special. Mix in a little talent, and you have an even better chance."
Kelson doesn't schedule team workouts because he trusts his players will hit the gym on their own time. They all do, with most meeting at 6 a.m.
Kelson also organized a Ryder Cup the past two seasons, when the Volunteers had an equal number of Europeans and Americans. The three-day event came with all the pomp and circumstance of the real thing, including opening ceremonies and captains equipped with walkie talkies. The only difference is the Americans won this version, claiming a one-point victory in 2005.
There's one too few Europeans on the roster to hold the competition this year, but the team still has a good-hearted culture war. It hasn't kept them from some good golf, though.
Sean Martin is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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