The Clemson men’s golf team returns five players who saw action in last year’s NCAA national tournament, helping the Tigers to a 13th place finish. Only All-American and US Amateur champion Doc Redman is missing from the lineup, which gives head coach Larry Penley reason for optimism as he enters his 36th season as Clemson head coach.
“Other than (senior captain) Bryson Nimmer, we are still a young team, but we are a team that has been tournament tested against the best teams in the best tournaments in the nation,” said Penley, who has taken all 35 of his previous teams to the NCAA Tournament.
“Three of our top five returning players (from the NCAAs) are sophomores, but they have national tournament experience and were in the lineup in big regular season events and when we finished second at the ACC Tournament and second at the NCAA regional last year.”
Redman will be a huge loss as he finished last season with a 70.59 stroke average, second on the team and third best in Clemson history when he finished second at the ACC Tournament, second at the NCAA Regional and 15th at the NCAA National. He turned pro in May and left with a 70.70 career stroke average, the best in Clemson history. He had 11 top 10 finishes in 20 career tournaments and shot under par in 36 of 61 career rounds.
Nimmer finished with a 70.50 stroke average last year, second best in Clemson history behind the 70.33 D.J. Trahan had in 2001-02 when he won the Jack Nicklaus Award. A model of consistency, Nimmer finished with eight top 10s in his 11 tournaments, led the team in rounds in the 60s with 12 and rounds under par with 21. He was 36-under-par for the year in his 34 rounds and finished 18th in the nation in the final Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, tied for the best by a Clemson golfer in the last nine years.
“Bryson has been a model of consistent excellence,” said Penley. “In every area he has been one of the most stable team members I have ever had. He was a second-team All-American last year and I see no reason why he can’t be on the first team this year as a senior.
“Bryson is among the top five percent (players) I have had when it comes to ball striking. He has shown improvement in his short game and is turning that into an asset as well.
“Off the course he is an outstanding leader. He leads by example, but when he needs to he speaks up and everyone listens. He is always there to help the young players. He did that last year and I am sure he will do that again with this year’s freshmen.”
William Nottingham is a junior who is a veteran of 19 tournaments over the last two years. He has a 73.95 average for those 19 events with five top 10 finishes. As a freshman he had a school record 62 at the Wolfpack Spring Open and was a starter on a Clemson team that reached the NCAA national tournament. had a 74.56 stroke average in eight events in 2017-18.
“I am excited to see William back this year,” said Penley. “He went through some swing changes and had a back injury last year. He had some outstanding performances this past summer, so I am optimistic about his game. “Nottingham finished fourth at the Dogwood Amateur in June when he had a 273 score and finished 10th at the Tennessee Amateur at the end of the summer.
Clemson finished second at the conference, second at the NCAA regional and 13th at the national tournament with a lineup that included three freshmen, the first time it has done that with that young a lineup in school history. Rookies Turk Pettit, Kyle Cottam and Colby Patton all made strong contributions down the stretch.
Pettit finished the season with a 70.97 stroke average, joining Redman and current PGA player Kyle Stanley as the only freshmen in school history to average under 71.00. During a four-tournament stretch from Feb. 18 to April 18 he had four straight top three finishes, as he joined Trahan as the only players in Clemson history to record four straight top threes.
During that stretch he won the Irish Creek Invitational and finished second at the Puerto Rico Classic and the Clemson Invitational. His 65 in the second round of the NCAA regional was a big part of Clemson’s second-place finish.
“Turk was among the best players in the nation for a significant part of the spring season. He struggled with his driver at the NCAA Tournament, but he has worked hard over the summer. He is a very talented player.”
Kyle Cottam had a 72.91 stroke average as a freshman when he had three top 10 finishes and 11 rounds under par. He had the best round of the day seven times and finished with 113 birdies, third on the team. He had a third-place finish at a national field at Trinity Forest in the fall, and had back to back top 10s in the spring. He finished the summer of 2018 with a second place at the Tennessee Amateur.
“I look at Kyle as the X Factor,” said Penley. “He is perhaps the best putter on the team and can make a lot of birdies. He had 23 birdies at the Tennessee Amateur this past summer, four more than anyone else. He just has to eliminate making a big number on some holes.”
Colby Patton came to Clemson with a strong pedigree. He is the son of former Clemson All-American and US Amateur Champion Chris Patton. It didn’t take Colby long to surpass his father in that he won his first tournament in just his second start, as he captured the Hummingbird Invitational. He finished seventh at the Puerto Rico Classic and was a big reason the Tigers made a run at the end of the season.
Patton, who made the Academic All-ACC team as a freshman, finished with a 73.32 stroke average, ahead of his dad’s freshman 73.55 figure in 1986-87, and had three more rounds at 75 or better (25) than his dad did as a rookie. “Colby showed what he is capable of when he shot a 72 in the final round at the NCAA National Tournament on a day when there were just a few players under par.”
Jonathan Rector and Coleman self are two veterans who will challenge for playing time this year. Mathison played is a veteran of eight tournaments in his career and has a 75.33 average, while Self has played in seven events with a 76.76 average.
Two freshmen will have a chance to contribute immediately in 2018-19. Zack Gordon and Jacob Bridgeman are both already veterans of playing on the big stage nationally.
Gordon was named the National High School Coaches Association Male Senior High School Golfer of the Year, the first golfer from South Carolina to win the award. Past winners include Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Brian Harman.
Gordon was the 5A Golf Champion for 2018 after shooting a 128 for 36 hole, and he broke the previous 5A 36-hole record of 136 that had been set by current PGA Tour player Bill Haas. At the end of the summer he qualified for the US Amateur at Pebble Beach.
Bridgeman closed his junior career by reaching Sweet 16 at US Junior Tournament at Baltusrol in June. He defeated the top seed, Kelly Chinn of Great Falls, Virginia in 20 holes in the second round, and played on the United States team in the Junior World Cup in Japan where he finished 21st. Bridgemen also helped lead the US Junior President’s Cup team to victory with a 2-1 match play record.
A three-time individual state champion at Chapman High near Spartanburg, he ranked #14 in the nation among all juniors, and ninth in the class of 2018 by Golfweek at the end of the summer of 2018.
“I was really impressed by Zack’s growth as a player over the last year. He is an outstanding chipper and putter and is a very good student of the game. Jacob already has played in the Junior President’s Cup. Like Doc Redman, he is a math major and I like that because he has a step-by-step approach to his game. He doesn’t take any short cuts.”