UTC's Benni Weilguni practices through light drizzle on the driving range early Monday afternoon in preparation for his team's trip to compete in the NCAA regional tournament. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press
A young team is out for a new experience.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men’s golf team arrived in Colorado on Tuesday in advance of the NCAA South Central Regional with one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen set to compete.
Junior Stephan Jaeger and sophomore Steven Fox have combined to play nine rounds of regional golf. Yet they don’t see the lack of experience as a deterrent for the Mocs, who are seeded sixth and will need to move up one spot to play for the national championship.
“They’re basically sophomores,” Fox, who finished in the top 10 in three tournaments this year, said of his younger teammates. “Even though they are still technically freshmen, they have a lot of talent, and being young helps us because we have a lot of team chemistry.”
Their chemistry, skill and talent will be put to the test on the 7,753-yard, par-72 Colorado National Golf Club against five teams ranked in the top 25: Oklahoma State, Georgia, Auburn, Arizona State and Clemson.
The Mocs are ranked No. 35, and facing strong fields hasn’t hindered them in the past. They finished second at the Linger Longer Invitational and backed that up with a second- place finish at the LSU National Invitational earlier this spring, racking up wins over Stanford, Georgia, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota along the way.
“When you play a tough course, you change your mind to that par is a good score,” said Jaeger, who broke a 47-year-old record with a 17-under-par 54 holes to win the Signal Mountain Invitational on Sunday.
“Scores will be higher than the last couple of weeks when we played. It will be a test. We’ll figure out how the course is playing and we’ll change our mind to what we need to do.”
They’ll have to change something from their third-place finish in the Southern Conference tournament a month ago. Most of the Mocs spent last week playing in the State Open and the SMI — or both — to get back into a competitive mode.
“This is the hardest part of the year — I love playing in the postseason — but this month between conference and regionals is a long time to keep them motivated and going in the right direction,” coach Mark Guhne said. “You’d liken it to a team playing in a BCS bowl where they have a month off before they play. But playing two tournaments last week helped.”
Playing in Colorado will present UTC with a different challenge than all of its previous tournaments under its sixth-year coach — elevation. Guhne said he’s heard that playing about a mile high can add as much as 10 percent to the distance of all clubs, driver through sand wedge.
“It will take us a while to get used to it,” Guhne said Monday. “We’ll do some work to get our yardages dialed in.”
He had plans for his team to play nine holes and hit the range most of Tuesday afternoon.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...