February 8, 1999
The Charles Warren era of Clemson golf has ended. The native of Columbia finished his career as the most accomplished golfer in school history, winning the 1997 NCAA Championship, and finishing second in 1998. He set 17 Clemson golf records during his four seasons and he teamed with classmate Joey Maxon to help Clemson to back-to-back top three finishes each of the last two years, a first in Clemson history. The Tigers were just three strokes from a National Championship in 1998.
The early returns in the fall of 1998 indicate that the Clemson golf program will continue to prosper without Warren and Maxon, a multiple year all-conference player and top 10 finisher himself at the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
So far this autumn, Clemson has won three of the four tournaments it has entered, and all three have been accomplished against a national quality field. In October, Larry Penley’s team won the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate in Birmingham against a field that had nine of the top 11 teams in the nation, including Clemson nemesis UNLV, a team Clemson thrashed by 14 strokes.
Just two weeks ago, Clemson won the championship of the Rolex Match Play Tournament in Vero Beach, showing this team can win in a tournament format or head to head. The match play event showed the competitive nature of this Clemson team.
“We’ve got a competitive bunch of young men,” said Penley, who has taken Clemson to the NCAA National Tournament 15 straight years, something only one other coach in the country has done. “They don’t like losing.
“We knew we were going to miss Charles and Joey because there is no way getting around missing great players. These guys knew for us to be competitive at the national level that their games would have to elevate. They are just a year older and a year better. Our ball striking has been phenomenal, but we have to work on our putting. When we start putting, the scores are going to be scary low.”
Clemson was scary low as far as the rest of the field is concerned at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate. Four Clemson players were under par for the tournament, nearly an unprecedented accomplishment. The Tigers were 20-under-par as a team and set a school record for the lowest 54-hole team score in history (832) and the lowest team round score (269). That second round 269 included four scores in the 60s, also a Clemson first.
John Engler was the star of that round and finished a Clemson best fifth in the tournament individually. He carded a 64 for the day, tied for the second best round in Clemson history and just one stroke away from the school record 63 turned in by Brad Clark at the 1985 ACC Championship. Engler had eight birdies and one bogey in his best round as a Tiger.
“John’s putting was the key and will be the key for him this year,” said Penley. “When he has confidence in his putter it allows him to be more conservative with his ball striking. He didn’t have to charge the flag on every fairway shot.”
Engler had a 72.62 stroke average last year as a freshman, the lowest freshman average in Clemson history. He was a model of consistency down the stretch, scoring under par at the ACC Tournament, the NCAA East Regional and the NCAA National events. He is the only freshman in Clemson history to do that.
Classmate Lucas Glover has also been outstanding this fall and in 1997-98. He had a 72.68 stroke average last year, just .06 off the pace set by Engler. He 16 rounds at par or better and won the Carpet Classic in April, defeating, among others, US Amateur Champion Matt Kuchar of Georgia Tech, just one week prior to Kuchar’s outstanding performance at The Master’s.
So far this year, Glover has a 71.56 average, including a second-place finish at The Ridges Intercollegiate. Glover showed his competitive spirit at the Rolex Match Play this fall, winning all three of his matches. He now has a 5-1 career record in the event.
The “veteran” of the starting lineup of this year’s Clemson team is Jonathan Byrd. The junior from Columbia, SC is the only player in Clemson history to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a freshman and sophomore. His 72.33 average is the best among returning players from last year’s squad. He had 18 rounds under par in 1997-98, including nine rounds in the 60s. For his career, Byrd has a 72.83 average, among the top five in school history.
So far this year Byrd has a 70.56 average and already has a title to his credit. He captured the first tournament of the year, the Ridges Intercollegiate with a nine-under-par 207 score, the lowest round of his career.
Those three players were etched in stone in the starting lineup when the season began. Penley had two spots open with the graduation of both Warren and Maxon. One of the spots has apparently been filled by a freshman, Michale Hoey.
“I knew he was good and had a lot of competitive spirit,” said Penley of his newcomer from Ireland. “He turned it up a notch in his first tournament and was a key to us winning the Jerry Pate.” All Hoey did was average 69 over the three rounds, finishing with a six-under-par 207 and a sixth place finish. Hoey could be the second coming of Richard Coughlan, an All-American for Clemson from 1993-97 and a rookie on the PGA tour in 1998.
The fifth spot in the lineup could belong to senior Elliot Gealy. The native of Salisbury, NC was a starter on Clemson’s 1997 team that finished third in the nation. He played very well at the Rolex Match Play event and is a veteran of 24 tournaments and 65 rounds in his career.
Luke Ferguson is another senior who could see action this spring. He played in two tournaments in the fall. Sean Thornton and John Walker are two more veterans on the roster with tournament experience.
All the above players have contributed to Clemson’s best fall in history. Clemson was ranked number-one in the nation by Golfweek at one juncture this fall and has been in the top three in the nation in both polls. This is the first time Clemson has won three fall tournaments, and there is still another event in Hawaii left to be played over the Thanksgiving holiday. “I’m not getting real excited about it now, but I do know we’re a very good golf team, that’s a fact,” said Penley. “How good remains to be seen.”
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