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2011-12 Clemson Golf Outlook

Jan. 10, 2012

No Clemson athlete has lettered in golf and football in the same year since the 1950s, and there hasn’t been a common denominator on the two sports coaching staffs since Whitey Jordan was an assistant football coach in the fall and coached the golf team in the spring from 1963-68.

But, there has been a consistent relationship between the two programs over the last eight years. Each of the last four falls that the Clemson football team has finished the year with a top 25 national ranking, the Clemson golf team has followed that with a top 20 final ranking, including two top 10 finishes.

That oddity is just one of the reasons for optimism around the Clemson golf team for the spring of 2012, because Dabo Swinney’s football team had its best year in 20 years in the fall of 2011 with an ACC Championship and top 20 final ranking.

Can Larry Penley’s Tiger golf team keep up the pace this spring? Based on the performance this past fall, the Tigers are on pace to follow suit. Despite missing the team’s second best player for the fall schedule, the Tigers enter the spring with a number-15 national ranking, the same ranking the Clemson football team had in the final BCS poll. Larry Penley’s team had a 33-14-1 record against a national schedule that included competition against 11 of the top 25 teams in the nation.

“We had a good fall, especially when you consider Crawford Reeves, our second best player last year in terms of stroke average, did not hit a single shot,” said Head Coach Larry Penley, who has taken the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament every year he has been the head coach (since 1984). “I was pleased with the way the freshmen picked up the slack.

“We played a tough schedule in the fall and I am glad we did because it will prepare us for the spring, “We finished in the top five in three of the four tournaments, including the Jerry Pate, where we were second against a very good field.”

Clemson already has wins over ranked teams Duke, Florida Sate, Georgia, Southern Cal, Tennessee and others.

“I am anxious to see what we can do once we get Crawford Reeves back in the lineup.” Reeves had to sit out the fall schedule due to back ailment, but he is expected to be ready to go in the spring.

The native of Greenville had a 73.06 stroke average last year, second best on the team by just two total strokes over the academic year. He actually had the best average on the team for the spring half of the schedule, and finished first among Clemson golfers in three of the last six tournaments, including the NCAA Regional at Erie, CO.

“Crawford is one of the best players in the country. He showed that last spring when he had top 16 individual finishes in six straight tournaments and was our best player at the NCAA regional.

“He is also one of our team leaders. If he can come back healthy this spring we can get to the Match play at the NCAA Tournament and anything can happen from there. He can take a lot of the burden off Corbin Mills.”

The most renowned player on the 2012 Clemson team is junior Corbin Mills, the defending US Public Links Champion. Mills had a solid sophomore year when he led the team in stroke average at 73.00 and had a team best four top 10 finishes, including a 10th place the Augusta State Invitation and a sixth place at the ACC Tournament.

He then jumped on the national scene in the summer of 2011 by winning the Public Links in dramatic fashion. He followed that up with a victory at the Players Amateur as well. He was under strong consideration for the Walker Cup by the end of the summer.

“Corbin has had an outstanding last six months. When you look at his list of accomplishments it is close to being unprecedented here. He has the talent to dominate and he showed that this past summer.

Mills followed up the summer with a strong fall that included a personal victory at the Jerry Pate Invitation in October with a 201 score, a total that tied for the lowest 54-hole score in Clemson history. He had four rounds in the 60s, all consecutive, to tie another Clemson record, including a career best 65 in the opening round at the Jerry Pate. He had the low round of the day among Tigers in eight of Clemson’s 12 team rounds this past fall. He has qualified for the 2012 Masters and the Heritage on the PGA Tour.

Jacob Burger is the most experienced player on the Clemson team. The senior from Orangeburg, SC is a veteran of 27 tournaments and 80 rounds entering the spring season. He is a consistent golfer with 61 of his 80 career rounds at 75 or better and he has had his score count in 69 of his 80 career rounds, one of the top 15 counting percentages in Clemson history.

Last year Burger was third on the Clemson team in stroke average with a 73.23 figure, but had just seven more strokes in the same amount of rounds as team leader Mills. Burger had 14 rounds at par or better to tie for the team lead. He had top 10 finishes at the Carpet Classic, when his performance included a career best 65 in the second round, and at the Furman Invitational where he finished sixth to help Clemson to the team victory.

Burger has qualified for the US Amateur three times in his career, including each of the last two years, and he has won at least one match at the North-South Amateur each of the last three years.

“Jacob has been Mr. Counter over his career,” said Penley. “We are looking for him to continue that in the spring when we will depend on his experience.”

McCuen Elmore was fourth on the Clemson team in scoring average last year with a 74.06 figure, but he was second among Tigers this past fall with a strong 72.33 figure for 12 rounds. He had a lot to do with Clemson’s top 15 ranking on Christmas Day.

“We needed someone to step up with Crawford’s injury and McCuen was one of the players to do it. His score counted 11 of the 12 rounds and he showed an ability to take it low with a 68 at the US Collegiate in the second round. He was our best golfer in two of the four tournaments against strong fields. He is ready for a strong final spring and we need him to.”

Elmore started the fall of 2011 with an eighth place at the Carpet Classic thanks to a career best three-under-par 213 score. He had all three of his rounds at par or better for the first time in his career. He tied Mills as Clemson’s best performer at the US Collegiate with a 215 score.

Thomas Bradshaw is a returning letterman who had a strong finish to his freshman year. The native of Columbia, SC was to be red-shirted last year, but Penley decided to activate the rookie in the spring and he responded. In his second career tournament he shot a final round 64 to lead Clemson to a come from behind win at the Furman Invitational.

He finished third overall at the event and the 64 tied the Clemson record for the lowest final round. He started the rest of the year and gained outstanding experience. He played in three of the four tournaments this past fall and had a 76.0 average.

The 2011 Clemson football team featured the play of National Freshman of the Year and First-Team Associated Press All-American Sammy Watkins. Penley doesn’t have a rookie with corresponding ability on the golf course (we aren’t sure anyone does), but the 28th year Clemson head Coach does have two freshmen who made a big impact this past fall by striking golf balls down the middle of the fairway while Watkins was streaking through the middle of enemy defenses in Death Valley.

Billy Kennerly is a true freshman from Alpharetta, GA who played in all four tournaments this past fall. He was third behind Mills and Elmore in stroke average with a 73.67 average, including two rounds in the 60s and five rounds at par or better. The two-time AJGA All-American showed his ability when he fired a second round 70 at the Carpet Classic, then had a 69 in the final round at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate to help the Tigers make a run at a victory. His second round 69 at the Bank of Tennessee tied for the best of the day and his 15th place finish was the best among Clemson golfers.

Classmate Hayden Garrett also showed his capabilities with a couple of solid performances in the fall. He had a 30th place finish at the Bank of Tennessee to tie for third among Clemson golfers and his 143 total over the last two rounds tied for the best on the Clemson team. Garrett’s score counted in all six rounds he played in the fall.

“The freshmen were really a great shot in the arm for us this past fall. Hayden Garrett and Billy Kennerly have the mentality to compete and succeed at the highest level. We saw that this past fall when they both made big contributions in tournaments against national competition.”

Penley played just six golfers this past fall, but that number will grow in the spring depending on Reeves’ health and the advancement of some other players, four of whom are returning lettermen.

Alex Boyd had a 74.22 stroke average last year for three tournaments and nine rounds and the senior is a veteran of eight tournaments overall. He had a 15th place finish at Furman when he played as an individual and he shot a 69 in the opening round of the Augusta State Invitational when he scored the first double eagle in Clemson golf history.

Brewer Bradshaw, older brother of Thomas, played in two events last year. He has battled injuries on and off over his career, but the fourth-year junior is hoping to play consistently as he did over the final two rounds at The Brickyard last year when he had consecutive rounds of 70-71to close with a top 25 finish.

Mike Muscatell and David Dannelly are two experienced players who hope to see some playing time. Dannelly started during the fall of 2010 and had a 67 in his first career round at the Carpet Classic when he finished 15th individually. Muscatell has played in three tournaments in his Clemson career.

A third freshman on the roster is the talented Stephen Behr, who sat out the fall and could red-shirt, but he could join the lineup as well. “Stephen was among our best players from late October to the end of the first semester,” said Penley. Behr was a second-team AJGA All-American as a high school player and is an outstanding student. Behr and Garrett both had 4.0 GPAs in the classroom in the fall.