The North Carolina men's golf team is looking forward to kicking off the spring season after concluding the fall with a first-place finish in the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate. The roster features three freshmen, one sophomore, four juniors, and three seniors. The Tar Heels have depth in the roster and it showed in the fall when eight different players got starts. Head coach Andrew Sapp believes that starting 10 different players in the spring is a definite possibility.
The fall campaign was a season characterized by ups and downs and inconsistency across the board. The Tar Heels started strong, placing fifth in the Carpet Capital Collegiate by posting a 10-over-par team score as junior Bailey Patrick was crowned co-champion. The team came back home to host the Tar Heel Intercollegiate where they took fourth place with a score of 13-over before traveling to the Jack Nicklaus Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, where they faltered and had an uncharacteristic performance. The Tar Heels showed resilience and bounced back to take fifth place at the Rod Myers Invitational posting their second best score of the fall at 6-over. Carolina concluded the fall campaign in Greensboro, N.C., where they took first place at the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate. The Tar Heels broke out to a three-stroke lead after shooting even par in the first round and posted a 5-under-par second round to win it all. The Tar Heels were led by freshman Henry Do who received co-champion honors after firing a 5-under-par score. Sapp hopes the team can carry the momentum into the spring campaign.
"We had our ups and downs last fall," Sapp said. "Obviously, when you lose your top scorer in Michael McGowan from the year before, you are trying to figure out how to fill that void. But, I'm really pleased that we had eight different players start this fall, which means that it was very competitive on our team. We had two different players win tournaments, which was awesome. And we definitely finished the fall well and built some momentum going into the offseason. The biggest downside was the Ohio State tournament. We played horribly, but we learned from it, bounced back, and finished the season well. If I were grading it out, I would give us a B+ maybe. But we've got some work to do and we are looking forward to getting started soon."
This spring the Tar Heels head to Puerto Rico and Florida in addition to tournaments throughout the Carolinas. The team hopes that they can improve to compete for an ACC Championship and qualify for the NCAA regional. Coach Sapp said the team needs to improve its putting for them to compete at an elite level.
"Looking back at our individual meetings with the guys at the end of the fall, we need to improve our putting," Sapp said. "We didn't putt very well last fall, and that's almost across the board. If you make just one more putt a round, then you are going to do really well. Some of the things we had our guys focus on was improving their short game, putting and driving accuracy. It's a lot easier to hit those greens from the fairway and when you are hitting greens you are able to make putts. Each individual has different goals and different things they need to work on. That's why we work with our guys individually rather than collectively. If everyone improves a shot or two a round, your whole team improves four or five or six shots a round. That's what we are working on."
Freshman Henry Do, of Canton, Mi., led all Carolina golfers with a 72.25 stroke average for the fall campaign. Do injured his wrist during the Tar Heel Intercollegiate and had to withdraw, but when healthy, Do showed why he deserved a spot in the starting rotation. Do finished the fall with eight total rounds, four under par, and two in the 60s with a low of 68 and a first-place finish in the Bridgestone Golf Collegiate.
"Henry had an up and down season," Sapp said. "He got hurt in the first round of our home tournament. I think we would have played better at home had we been able to play five and count four scores instead of play four, count four. He had to battle through that injury and get back to finishing off the season in excellent fashion in the way we knew he could by winning our final tournament. Fortunately, it wasn't an injury we think will linger on throughout the rest of the year. He's healed properly and he should be good to go for the spring season. Henry has done a great job. He's come in and worked hard, as have all of our guys. He has really proven that he can go out and shoot some low scores in tournaments and that's good to see."
Brandon Dalinka, from Newtown, Pa., was the most consistent golfer for the Tar Heels last fall. The junior was a mainstay in the lineup as he played in all five tournaments and averaged 72.85 strokes per round. Dalinka had his best tournament at home in the Tar Heel Intercollegiate where he posted a 2-under-par to tie for fourth.
"Brandon is our consistent player," Sapp said. "He's done a really nice job and it's because he is such a great ball-striker. He's right about where his stroke average is, shooting around 73 in most rounds. That's what you need; you need guys who every day are going to put up a good solid score for you that you can count on. Brandon did a nice job last fall in doing that for us."
Junior Bailey Patrick was another mainstay in the Tar Heel lineup as he also played in all five tournaments. Patrick, a native of Charlotte, N.C., had a stroke average of 73.29. He got his first career win in the fall at the Carpet Capital Collegiate after shooting 9-under-par. Sapp hopes he can pick up another individual title this spring.
"Bailey has won one of the major college golf tournaments of the year," Sapp said. "He didn't play up to his expectations after that, but Bailey has been a mainstay in our lineup since his freshman year and he's got the desire to continue and improve, which helps him. He's done a nice job improving each and every semester. He is continuing to improve and he's got his first win under his belt. Sometimes the hardest win is the first one, so hopefully for him he will continue to compete for individual titles in the spring."
Andy Knox, of Cary, N.C., competed in the Tar Heel Intercollegiate this year and posted a stroke average of 73.33. Knox, a senior, finished tied for 23rd at the Tar Heel. Although Knox only competed in one event, Sapp believes he can contribute more in the spring.
"Andy has a great attitude and is working hard," Sapp said. "He didn't qualify very well last fall, but he's got as good a shot as anybody. The thing I love about Andy is he has all the experience in the world. We're not going to be worried, if he gets hot, about putting him in the lineup because he's been there and done that. It's just a matter of him getting his game where it needs to be and being ready to play at the high level he has played before. Once he's there, he'll fit right in."
Keagan Cummings, of Dublin, Ireland, played in more tournaments last fall than in any previous semester in his collegiate career. Cummings, a sophomore, had three rounds below par and finished with a 73.82 stroke average. Cummings had his best tournament at home where he finished 1-over in a tie for 11th. Cummings will look to improve during the spring semester and compete for his first individual win.
"Keagan came on strong in the end," Sapp said. "He needs to gain a little more consistency, but he was one of the catalysts in us winning the Bridgestone. He played poorly in the first round but ended up shooting a great score in the final round to help us win. That will help give him confidence that he can shoot in the 60s and under par in tournaments when we need him to. That will help him develop and grow and continue to get better. He's shown a lot of improvement and it's great to see his hard work paying off."
Freshmen Davis Bateman and Zachary Martin were able to play in some tournaments in the fall and gain some valuable collegiate experience. Bateman, of Charlotte, N.C., finished the fall season with a stroke average of 74.40. Martin, from Pinehurst, N.C., competed in six rounds as an individual and ended with a 76.50 average.
"Davis did a great job," Sapp said. "Coming in as a freshman, you never know what a freshman is going to bring to the table, but Davis fit in really well. His finish at Duke was tremendous. Davis is a fantastic ball-striker and one of the most accurate guys on our team with the best percentage of fairways hit and greens hit in regulation. For him, if he can get his putting to be where it will be this spring, he can really contribute for us. The Duke tournament was a big confidence builder for him knowing he can finish in the top five or top 10 of a college tournament. That's going to help him press on and continue to improve. He's an extremely hard worker. I think he's got a great upside in potential to continue to grow."
"Zach has as much of a chance to start as just about anybody," Sapp said. "Zach's done a nice job transitioning to college golf. As a freshman it can oftentimes be difficult, but he's transitioned well and gotten some valuable experience. We need to find a balance there to keep the low scores and make the 78s turn into 74s and he'll be a great college golfer. He hits it extremely far, but if he can improve his driving accuracy and his fairways hit percentage, that gives him the green light to go after the greens and make a lot of birdies, which is what he is capable of. Hopefully Zach will continue to improve."
Juniors Reeves Zaytoun and Robert Register made their first career starts last fall. Zaytoun, from Raleigh, N.C., ended the campaign with an average of 75.33 while Register, a native of Burlington, N.C., was not far behind at 75.73.
"Reeves made his first college start, which was awesome," said Sapp. "His qualifying scores are much better than they have been. He gained some valuable experience and that is what he needs. Now that he's got some experience, if he gets hot and plays well in qualifying and qualifies, we are going to feel very comfortable with him in the lineup. His experience in the fall will help him continue to improve."
"Robert also made his first career start for us," Sapp said. "He's shown a lot more confidence. I think he had our second lowest stroke average in qualifying this year so he's been able to improve his qualifying score tremendously so now it's just transferring that into the golf tournaments. Another case of a guy who hasn't started much gaining valuable experience. Hopefully that will pay off coming down the stretch in his last year and a half as a college golfer at Carolina."
Senior Andy Sajevic, from Fremont, Neb., played in nine rounds during the fall and ended with a stroke average of 76.22.
"Andy is such a great kid and a hard worker," commented Sapp. "He had a very good summer winning the Nebraska State Amateur and the Nebraska Amateur match play, but struggled a little bit last fall. He's been working hard in the offseason trying to get back to where he belongs as a player and a golfer. He has tremendous leadership skills and he's the kind of guy you want on the road with you every week. Hopefully he will continue to improve his game and get back to where we know he has been as a college golfer and where he can be. I'm excited to see what Andy is going to be able to do in the spring."
Senior James Ellis, of Greenville, N.C., was injured all fall and will continue to rehab a wrist injury.
"James is still working through wrist surgery and hasn't been able to play," said Sapp. "He played one round of qualifying in the fall and he was in so much pain that he shut it down. He's been working with the trainers and doctors to help continue to heal his wrist. That's a tough injury to deal with as a golfer. We are supporting him in every way we can in his efforts to get better and heal his wrist."
The Tar Heels begin the spring campaign at the Puerto Rico Classic Feb. 23-25. They will play in six regular season tournaments that conclude with the ACC Championships Apr. 25-27 in New London, N.C.
"Our lineup is going to be a competitive one to fill," said Sapp. "As I stated earlier, we had eight players start for us last fall and I imagine we might have 10 players competing to start this spring because that's how tough these guys are and the competition is going to be tough to get in there."
The Tar Heels are hoping that this competition within the lineup will prove to be an asset for the team and help them go deep into post-season play.