Athens, GA -- Georgia football coach Mark Richt has to replace three-fifths of his offensive line for the upcoming season. Bulldogs golf coach Chris Haack can relate.
Haack has gotten his Georgia men’s golf team back to the NCAA Championships despite saying goodbye to four members of the NCAA runner-up squad from a year ago (current professionals Harris English, Russell Henley, Bryden Macpherson and Hudson Swafford).
But as Haack noted after the Bulldogs qualified for the NCAAs, “I’d say it’s been a great year. No matter what happens, it’s been a great year.”
With that attitude in place, the Bulldogs will join 29 of the nation’s top teams at the Riviera Country Club (par-71, 7,292 yards) in Pacific Palisades, Calif., for the NCAAs, which will be held Tuesday through Sunday. The 30 teams are slated for 54 holes of stroke play, with the top eight then advancing to match play. The individual national champion also will be crowned after 54 holes.
Georgia is seeded 20th for the tournament and has been paired with Central Florida and Iowa for the first two rounds. Texas, Alabama and California are the top three seeds for the NCAAs.
“The sky’s the limit for our team,” Haack said. “Our plan is to go out there, be relaxed and look at it as ‘why not us?’ If we play well, we can play with anybody else in the country. For these guys, this will be an invaluable experience to get to compete at this level, to feel that pressure and to see what it’s all about trying to win a championship.”
The Bulldogs will begin pursuit of the national title on Tuesday when they tee off in 10-minute increments from 10:20 to 11 a.m. Eastern. On Wednesday, Georgia will tee off from 3:40 to 4:20 p.m. The third-round tee times and pairings will be based on the 36-hole scores. Live scoring and tee times can be found at ncaa.com.
Georgia will use a lineup of junior T.J. Mitchell, sophomores Brian Carter, Joey Garber and Keith Mitchell, and freshman Nicholas Reach. T.J. Mitchell is the only Bulldog remaining from last year’s NCAA runner-up team; however, Garber played in 2011 for Michigan as it came in 10th. Carter, Keith Mitchell and Reach will be making their NCAA debuts.
Said T.J. Mitchell, the Bulldogs’ elder statesman, “Everything from here on is a plus. We’re looking forward to making it to the top eight, and then we’ll go from there. If you can get to match play, you never know what will happen.”
The Georgia quintet has been assembled for five additional events this season, highlighted by second-place efforts in the USF Invitational and the Linger Longer Invitational. With this lineup, the Bulldogs came in fourth in both the SEC Championship and the NCAA Athens Regional.
The Bulldogs advanced to the NCAAs for the 14th time in 16 seasons under Haack. Georgia won the 1999 and 2005 NCAA titles and came in second in 2007 and 2011.
“Making it to the NCAAs is a feeling that never gets old,” Haack said. “It’s an honor to be in the field, and that’s how we look at it. Without question, this is an elite field and we will have to play our best to be in the hunt. That said, our guys are excited about the opportunity and can’t wait for this challenge.”