UT advanced out of the San Diego Regional to earn back-to-back NCAA finals berths for the first time since the Tiger Woods collegiate era, and it’s only fitting that this year’s championship returns to the site of Woods’ 1996 NCAA individual title.
The Vols begin competition Tuesday at 7:47 a.m. as the tournament’s No. 24 seed, playing alongside Duke and North Florida. That trio shifts to the afternoon on Wednesday (12:59) before Thursday’s pairings are determined by team standings after 36 holes. Three rounds of stroke play will narrow the field to the top eight teams, which advance to match play quarterfinals that conclude with Saturday’s national championship dual.
Head coach Jim Kelson says his Vols, fresh off their third-place finish on the west coast, are ready to tee it up at a very familiar layout less than 100 miles from the UT campus.
“The Honors is a very special place for us,” Kelson said. “The most important thing is it’s a great golf course. It’s a championship course. We think it sets up well for us. We’re generally pretty long and pretty straight, and you’ve got to be both of those there.
“Obviously, it was a big deal for us to make it back (to the NCAA finals) with it being right down the road. We’re just really excited and fired up about playing well and competing this week.”
Kelson is staying with his proven lineup of senior captain David Holmes, junior Robin Wingardh, sophomores Darren Renwick and Garrick Porteous and freshman Jay Vandeventer.
Wingardh, who finished 10th at the San Diego Regional, says last year’s experience in Toledo will prove beneficial.
“It’s definitely more special this year since we’re going back to The Honors. We’re going to be the only team from Tennessee and we had a good week of preparation down there (before the regional).
“I think we’re better prepared this year and I think we have a good chance down there. I’m real excited to go play.”
Vandeventer played tons of high school golf tournaments at The Honors Course during his days at The Baylor School in Chattanooga. The Vols freshman says it suits his game just perfectly.
“We’ve all played the golf course quite a few times and we all love it. It’s a long golf course; that’s what I really like. It’s one of those courses that rewards good ball-striking.”
Holmes couldn’t be happier about the fact that he’s finishing his outstanding UT career at one of his favorite places.
“It’s my last tournament and I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better. I’m fortunate that it’s in the state and a lot of my family and friends will be there. I didn’t play well at regionals, but I feel like I’m better than I’ve ever been. That sounds weird, but I know I have more to my game than I’ve ever had and I’m hoping it’s going to show up at The Honors.”
The Knoxville native also thinks home turf could prove to be a difference.
“No doubt; it’s not even a question. A lot of tournaments that teams host, they end up winning. It really does make a difference. You just know the course a little better, you know the ins and outs a little better and you feel comfortable and confident.”
Tennessee certainly fits that description after earning consecutive NCAA finals bids for the first time since making three straight appearances from 1995-97.
The Vols were 12th a year ago in Toledo.
This year’s 30 teams and six individuals will compete for 54 holes of medal play, 18 per day, to determine the individual medalist Tuesday through Thursday. The top eight teams then qualify for match play.
The teams will re-seed by their order of finish in medal play and square off in a single-elimination bracket playing one round of match play each day to determine the team champion in Sunday’s championship match.
“This is the second year of this format,” said tournament director and Chattanooga athletics director Rick Hart. “It places a premium on team play and endurance. The team champion has to play at a high level over the course of six days.”
This is the second time The Honors has hosted the event. In 1996, Arizona State captured the team title, while Stanford’s Tiger Woods claimed medalist honors. Ten future PGA Tour winners played in the event with Woods topping Arizona’s Rory Sabbatini by four shots.
Web casting will be available for the second and final rounds of medal play on Wednesday and Thursday. Cameras will be posted on holes 16, 17 and 18 to capture the action on NCAA.com.
There is a practice round on Memorial Day that is free to the public. Teams tee off in a shotgun format at 9 a.m.
There are morning and afternoon waves each day of medal play. A complete schedule is available on gomocs.com.
Tickets are $45 for an All-Session badge that covers six days of competition. Any-Session badges are available for $15. Tickets can be purchased at gomocs.com, on site at The Honors Course ticket entrance or by calling (423) 266-MOCS (6627).