Willett and Friends Ready for NCAAs
By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer
Reprinted here in its entirety.
|JSU sophomore Danny Willett qualified
for the 2006 NCAA tournament individually. This year, because the Gamecocks
won the OVC tournament, Willett's teammates will join him at the NCAAs.
Photo: Courtesy of Jacksonville State.
Danny Willett's first experience in the NCAA Golf Championship, in 2006, was
enjoyable enough, but he said he expects an even better time this year.
That's because he's bringing the rest of the band with him.
A year ago, Willett qualified for the NCAA regionals as an individual, but
the sophomore and all his Jacksonville State teammates made it this time by
winning the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
The Gamecocks get an early start, going off at 7 a.m. Eastern time today in
the East Regional at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta. They're seeded 19th
and will play with Louisiana-Lafayette and St. John's the first two rounds.
“It should be a lot better (this year),” Willett said. “Last year was all
right, but it wasn't the same feel. It's always good to be on your own because
(golf) is an individual sport, but there are occasions where … it's good to have
all the guys there.
“I don't know if it's easier, but it'll definitely take a little bit of
pressure off going as a team. Hopefully, it'll be the right kind of atmosphere
to go play and go play well.”
Going it alone in 2006 at Lake Nona, Willett shot 10-over-par 226 (77-72-77)
and finished tied for 68th. It wasn't because he didn't have the safety net of
his team around him, although that might've soothed some feelings after the 9 he
took on the par-4 11th the last day.
“Last year I wasn't ready,” he said. “It was good to get there, but I didn't
do what I wanted to when I got there.
“I finished third (at the OVC), but my game wasn't there. I had a couple
weeks between and tried to do some things to get it there, but they didn't
really click in time and I struggled. It had nothing to do with being on my own.
I just wasn't in the right frame of mind and my game wasn't in the right place.”
This year, his 71.74 stroke average is second-best in school history. He's
rated 89th in the Golfweek collegiate rankings and 13th in the Golfstat Cup
The Gamecocks will need Willett to be sharp if they want to be one of the 10
teams advancing to the championship round, May 30-June 2 at Golden Horseshoe in
And they'll need contributions from everyone.
Once again, the Gamecocks must survive the toughest field in the regionals, a
gauntlet that includes 11 of Golfweek's top 30 and eight of Golfstat's top 25,
including consensus No. 1 Georgia. JSU is 93rd in the Golfweek poll.
“It's always going to be a very, very strong region, and it's no different
this year,” Gamecocks coach James Hobbs said. “You can always figure going into
this region six or seven teams have a lock … but you can't get caught up with
who you're playing against (or) you'll lose sight of what you're playing for.”
This will be the Gamecocks' fourth trip to the Division I regionals in six
years, but their first since 2004.
They've never made it past this stage, although twice they got to the
favorable Saturday morning wave. The closest they came to making the cut was
three years ago at Yale when they bounced back from a bad first round to post
the best round of the second day and move into the contenders' wave, but
couldn't close the deal, missing a playoff by five shots.
“I kind of think when we were there we were little too focused on 10th
place,” said senior Bryan Rozier, the last holdover from that team. “We need to
go out with the mindset to get in the last group the last day and get in the
thick of things and not just be focused on 10th.”
The key to that is getting two good scores from Johann Lee and Marcus Harrell
at the 4 and 5 spots, and solid rounds from Willett, Rozier and Julian
Colmenares every day.
If the top four Gamecocks play just to their season stroke averages every
day, the team shoots 888, which was seven shots off the final qualifying spot in
2006's East Regional.
“We've got five pretty good guys and if they can go out and play well I think
we've got a good chance,” Willett said. “We've got five good players. We just
need them to step up at different times and post good numbers for three days.”
About Al Muskewitz
Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State
University sports teams for The Star.
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