Men's Golf front runners for SSAC Tournament title in Columbus
ROME – As he started to talk about his team, Shorter University head mean’s golf coach Greg Owens quickly shifted his attention to the figure that arrived at the doorway to his office.
“That man right there can tell you what kind of team we have. He knows what it takes,” Owens said, pointing to J.T. Clendenin.
Indeed, the Hawks’ first-year assistant coach is familiar with the qualities needed for a collegiate golf team to be successful, having been a key figure for the program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga who helped the Mocs not only win back-to-back Southern Conference championships, but also take the NCAA Division I program the nation’s No. 1 ranking several times.
As far as Clendenin is concerned, those same traits that made UTC emerge as a top team have become the trademark of the Hawks, who have risen to the No. 9 ranking in the NAIA Top 25 poll and are turning their attention to the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament that will be held April 25-27 at Green Isle Country Club in Columbus.
“What makes the team good is the depth we have,” Clendenin said of the Hawks, who with a win at the SSAC tourney would secure an automatic berth to the NAIA Men’s Golf National Championships May 24-27 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.
“When you have eight guys battle it out every week just to earn a spot, then you have a good team,” he added. “I think having to qualify here is harder than playing in a tournament.”
There’s little doubt that Shorter’s deep roster gives the Hawks a solid shot at getting back to the national tournament, which Shorter’s team was absent from last year. Shorter was still represented at the event, as one of the best golfers to ever wear the school’s colors emerged as a title contender – Arvid Bengtson.
Now a senior, Bengtson would certainly enjoy the company of his teammates at the national tournament this year. Bengtson has picked up where he left off at the 2010 national tournament when he carded a fifth-place individual finish.
For that outing, Bengtson was honored as a first team NAIA and PING All-American and also earned an automatic berth into this year’s national championship tournament.
Last month at the Camp LeJeune Gold Championship in Camp LeJeune, N.C., Bengtson finished 1-under after three rounds to place 11th overall and lead the then eighth-ranked Hawks to a ninth place finish, bettering the likes of NAIA powers such as 12th-ranked Lee University, 16th-ranked Johnson & Wales University out of Florida and 19th-ranked Savannah College of Art and Design.
The Swede has yet to finish out of the top 10 this spring, taking medalist honors at Lee’s invitational in March after finishing second in the Hawks’ season opener at the Coastal Georgia Invitational in St. Simons Island.
But although Bengtson has and continues to play a key role as the lone senior on Shorter’s roster, a pair of freshmen has certainly proved that they are ready to be a key part of the Hawks’ depth – Erwan Vieilledent of France and Ethan Lambert of Rome.
Their contributions were made all too clear this week in Shorter’s final regular-season appearance in the NAIA Classic at Brickyard Crossing in Indianapolis, Ind., when the first-year players joined the veteran Bengtson by carding top 10 finishes to help the Hawks claim third place in a field that included seven teams ranked in the NAIA Top 25.
Vieilledent of France has gotten his college career off to a fast start. After claiming a pair of third-place finishes in the fall, Vieilledent has charged ahead this spring posting low rounds for Shorter and winning medalist honors at Shorter’s own Docuteam Invitational.
Lambert, a former Coosa High standout, has routinely posted low numbers on the scoreboard for the Hawks, including a fourth place showing at the Docuteam tourney.
Two more members of Shorter’s freshmen class, who according to Golfstat have combined to give the Hawks the nation’s lowest scoring average among freshmen, includes Matt Youmans of Lawrenceville and Nick Burns of Peachtree City.
The depth list doesn’t stop there.
Juniors Winston Gibbs of Hartwell and Nico Van Rensburg of South Africa, and sophomores Tyler Steptoe of Richmond Hill and Julio Coto of Mexico City have also tossed their hats into the competitive ring for the team.
“Every tournament we go to we’ve had different guys playing,” said Clendenin. “Each week we’ve had different lineups.
“They’re hard working and they have fun. There’s great team chemistry,” he added. “And they’re starting to peak and doing it at the right time.”