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May 22, 2014

Golf in Kansas for national championship



What: 2014 NCAA Men's Golf Championship
Where: Prairie Dunes Country Club, Hutchinson, Kan. (par-70, 6,759 yards)
When: May 23-28 (stroke play May 23-25, individual championship May 26, match play May 27-28).
Golf Course Website: www.prairiedunes.com

By surviving a gut-wrenching final round at the Eugene Regional last weekend, the South Carolina men's golf team punched its ticket to the NCAA Championship for the second straight year.

The reward? At least 54 holes of golf on the Great Plains.

Finishing fifth in the Eugene Regional with a total score of 880 (40-over par), the Gamecocks edged out North Florida and Chattanooga by five strokes to claim the final spot from the Eugene Regional to the NCAA Championship, which gets underway Friday at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan.

"There is no more pressure in college golf than being on the bubble to advance to the national championship," USC coach Bill McDonald said. "It's pretty tough for the players to go through. And we had U.S. Open-type conditions with the golf course. It made for a tough experience, but thankfully we got through it and we can focus on nationals now."

USC is the eighth highest seeded of 10 SEC teams competing at the NCAA Championship, led by top-seeded and defending national champion Alabama. Georgia (6), Arkansas (11), Vanderbilt (14) and LSU (15) are seeded among the top 15 schools, while Texas A&M (18), Auburn (21), USC (22), Kentucky (25) and Missouri (27) are seeded in the bottom half of the 30-team field.

The teams will play 54 holes of stroke play in the opening three days of the tournament. The eight lowest scoring teams qualify for match play, when they will square off starting Tuesday. The pressure-packed championship 18-hole match is scheduled for Wednesday.

Sophomore Will Starke shot a sizzling 68 in the opening round of the Eugene Regional and eventually finished tied for 16th, earning his second straight Top 20 finish at a regional. His birdie putt on the par-4 17th hole late in the final round helped USC build some separation between themselves and the challengers pursuing them.

"Will has had a really good spring," McDonald said. "He didn't play that well the final round (in Eugene), but his first two days he was locked in."

Junior Caleb Sturgeon, a Laurens native, saved his best golf for the final round, shooting a two-over par 72 to finish in a tie for 22nd overall with a total score of 220. Freshman Ben Dietrich shot the same score.

"Ben has been very solid for us most of the year," McDonald said. "I walked with him for the last nine holes (in Eugene) and we actually thought he had to birdie 18. He hit it to within four or five feet and makes it. At the time, we thought we really needed that birdie. It was a pretty gutsy performance on his part."

USC's two other golfers participating at the NCAA Championship are Matt NeSmith (223 at Eugene Regional) and Will Murphy (230).

After flying from Portland to Kansas City, USC practiced Wednesday at the University of Kansas course outside of Kansas City. Along with the other 29 participating teams, they are permitted one practice round at Prairie Dunes beginning 10 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Paired with Oregon (No. 23 seed) and SMU (24), the Gamecocks tee off in the first round of stroke play on Friday at 8:50 a.m. ET.

Totaling just 6,759 yards, Prairie Dunes is a relatively short golf course, but similar to most tree-deprived golf courses in the state of Kansas, wind should be a factor throughout the tournament.

Conditions at the Prairie could impact teams and players unfamiliar with the environment. The region's golf courses are renowned for their windy conditions, which is expected to hover between 10 and 15 mph throughout the tournament.

"It's an interesting place to have a national championship," McDonald said. "But I've heard the golf course is great. (The reputation of the golf course is) it's not very long but extremely tricky around the greens. There are some interesting sight lines on tee shots, from what I understand, so you don't know where to hit it until you've played it. I've heard numerous accounts of how the greens are very difficult if the wind starts to blow and they firm up."

Rain could also wreak havoc with forecasts for Saturday through Monday calling for at least a 40 percent chance of rain, according to The Weather Channel.

Prairie Dunes has hosted several major tournaments in the past, including the U.S. Women's Open in 2002 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2006.

Seven years ago, Golf Digest ranked Prairie Dunes at No. 30 among "America's Greatest Golf Courses."

SEEDING FOR 2014 NCAA MEN'S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP:
1. Alabama
2. Oklahoma State
3. Stanford
4. Georgia Tech
5. California
6. Georgia
7. Washington
8. Illinois
9. Virginia Tech
10. Houston
11. Arkansas
12. UAB
13. Oklahoma
14. Vanderbilt
15. LSU
16. Texas
17. Florida State
18. Texas A&M
19. UCLA
20. Southern Cal
21. Auburn
22. South Carolina
23. Oregon
24. SMU
25. Kentucky
26. Kennesaw State
27. Missouri
28. Purdue
29. Georgia State
30. Iowa State



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