For the first time since May 27, 1983, the Clemson men’s golf team played a tournament without Larry Penley as its head coach when the Tigers opened the 2021-22 season in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate on September 10, 2021.
Penley, who led the Tigers to 37 NCAA Tournament appearances, tied for second in ACC history for any coach in any sport, retired after 38 years at the helm of the program at the end of the 2021 NCAA National Tournament, and gave the keys to the program to associate head coach Jordan Byrd.
The transition should be seamless on two fronts. First, Byrd was Penley’s assistant for 16 years and was involved in all aspects of the program. Second, Byrd’s first Clemson team has four seniors returning from a team that won four tournaments, including the ACC Championship and had a top 15 finish at the national championship.
Super Seniors Colby Patton and Kyle Cottam have been a part of four teams that have gone to the NCAA national tournament each of the three times one has been held (none in 2020 due to COVID19), and taken part in nine tournament victories.
True seniors Jacob Bridgeman and Zack Gordon have also been major factors in Clemson’s recent run of success at the conclusion of the Penley era.
The four seniors have combined for 116 tournaments and 353 rounds, had 29 Top 10 individual finishes, 88 rounds in the 60s, 131 under-par rounds and 169 round at par-or-better. They have taken 25,465 shots for a collective average of 72.14.
“This would be the type of team you want for your first year as head coach,” said Byrd with a smile. “The four seniors have played a lot of golf and been around a lot of success. All four were in the lineup when we won the ACC Championship last April.”
While Byrd has great experience returning, he is the only coach in the nation who must replace the defending national champion. Clemson graduate Turk Pettit closed out his career in grand style by becoming just he second Clemson golfer to win the NCAA Tournament when he fired a seven-under-par score of 273 for the 72 holes at Grayhawk Golf Club last May.
William Nottingham started six tournaments last year and also will be missed. He played in 44 tournaments and 133 rounds in becoming the first Clemson golfer to letter in five different seasons. He had eight career top 10s and 47 rounds at par or better.
“Obviously the four seniors will be the strength of this team because they have been in the big tournaments and had success. They have done some great things, but I think they all have another level they can reach. “
With the return of two Super Seniors, Byrd does have a large roster with 11 players listed. Carter Pendley is a junior who has two letters, while Drayton Stewart is a red-shirt sophomore who lettered two years ago.
For the first time in many years, Clemson has five freshmen on its roster in Sean Curran, Matias LaGrutta, Kian Rose, Austin Scott and Andrew Swanson.
“We have scheduled a couple of individual tournaments to give our young guys some experience, and we have many events that we can bring a sixth player. It is obviously important that these guys get some experience this year.”
The schedule is among the more challenging Clemson has faced with tournaments at famed courses around the country (Colonial Country Club, Albany Golf Club in Bahamas, Pinehurst and The Floridian). “With a veteran team I thought it was important to challenge them.
“In general I have had the philosophy that to be the best you have to beat the best. I think it is important to play at a championship level throughout the year to prepare you for the NCAA Tournament.”
Bridgeman is the most decorated of the Clemson seniors, as he was named the ACC Scholar Athlete of the Year for men’s golf, was a second-team All-American and one of 11 semifinalists for the 2021 Fred Haskins Award. He posted a 70.11 stroke average for the year, third best in Clemson history, and had six top 10 finishes, including a pair of wins. His 70.85 career stroke average is second only to Doc Redman’s 70.70.
This past summer the native of Inman, SC posted a 3-1 record for the United States Palmer Cup team and reached the final 16 of the US Amateur after finishing seventh in the stroke play qualifier. He ranked 14th in the final Golfweek national rankings and is ranked 14th in the PGA University rankings entering this spring.
Kyle Cottam and Colby Patton are two other seniors on the roster who have received considerable honors. Cottam was third on the team in stroke average last year behind Pettit (69.84) and Bridgeman with a 71.64 figure. He was a first-team All-District selection by the Golf Coaches Association and finished 105th in the final Golfweek rankings.
Patton, the son of former Clemson All-American and US Amateur Champion Chris Patton, was a first-team All-ACC selection last year. He had a 71.82 stroke average a year ago and earned three top 10 finishes. He was third on the team in under-par rounds with 12, including eight in the 60s.
Gordon was in the Clemson lineup for four of the nine tournaments, but two of them were the ACC Championship and the NCAA regional. He will forever be remembered for making a 20-foot birdie putt on the 21st hole of his match against Greyson Porter of Florida State, a putt that gave Clemson the ACC Championship in Larry Penley’s last year as head coach. He had a terrific summer, that included reaching the semifinals of the North-South Amateur at Pinehurst #2.
Clemson played just seven players over the course of the COVID19 shortened 2020-21 season (the ACC did not allow teams to play in the fall). Junior Carter Pendley played as an individual at the Kiawah Invitational and did well with an even-par score of 216 for his 54 holes.
Drayton Stewart is the sixth returning letter winner. The native of Charleston, SC played in two tournaments as a freshman in 2018-19 and recorded a 12th place finish at the Puerto Rico Classic’s individual event.
Kian Rose, a native of South Africa, and Matias La Grutta of Cary, NC were both on campus last year and earned experience playing in team qualifiers. Rose had five top 10 finishes in world junior events over the last two years. La Grutta was listed as the number-two junior in North Carolina by the AJGA in the summer of 2020.
Andrew Swanson is a true freshman from Bluffton, SC, the same area that sent Bryson Nimmer to Clemson. He was ranked as the top player in South Carolina by the AJGA. Austin Scott is from Daniel Island, SC and was a two-time All-State golfer who led Bishop England High School to a pair of 3A state titles. Sean Curran is the first Clemson scholarship golfer from Illinois since 1980. He was a starter in golf and basketball in high school, and was a three-time state qualifier on the golf course.