published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Match play at nationals next goal for golf Chattanooga Mocs

It's not reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament in terms of national exposure. It's not getting on the front page of USA Today.

But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's golf team winning the South Central Regional and advancing to the NCAA championship tournament at the Riviera course in Los Angeles is an illustrious achievement that is athletically equivalent of a Sweet 16 run.

"Knocking down the next door would be huge," UTC athletic director Rick Hart said. "One of the unknowns that will be fun to follow will be the lasting impact that this all has on our programs and department."

The next step, in the eyes of coach Mark Guhne, is contending to make the cut for match play this week. The top eight teams after three rounds of stroke play advance.

Get to the Elite Eight. After that, the next step is winning the national championship.

"That would reverberate beyond any achievement in the Division I era of our program," Hart said. "It would be our first and only championship."

This is the UTC's second trip to the NCAA championship. The Mocs played at Inverness in 2009 and finished in 18th place.

"We're expected to be at regionals almost every year," Guhne said. "Now we need to go out to nationals and have a good showing and see how far we go.

"The further we go, the more it validates what we've been trying to put together here."

Give Guhne a chance to make the top eight heading into Thursday and he'll take it.

"You can't be 30 shots back," he said. "You have to play yourself into position to make it in the top eight on the last day. That's what I want."

Guhne had random local golfers congratulate him Thursday when the Mocs practiced at Council Fire Golf Club. Hart said he had similar experiences in the last week as well.

"I don't know if people would relate it to a basketball Sweet 16," Hart said, "but people do understand that it's special and they are very prideful about it."

The impact of taking another step toward -- or perhaps winning -- a national championship is not lost on the players.

"To see a small school like us -- it's helped [two-time defending champion] Augusta State immensely -- for Chattanooga it would be a huge," said senior Stephan Jaeger, the Southern Conference tournament and regional medalist. "It would be historic for us."

This current crop of Mocs already made history with its regional victory.

"I don't want to understate the job Mark has done in building our program and how excited we are that we have a program that competes on the national level," Hart said. "The beauty about our golf programs is that you can win a national championship at UTC."

about David Uchiyama...

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 ...

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