Chattanooga Mocs seek to stay in play at NCAA golf tournament

Chattanooga Mocs seek to stay in play at NCAA golf tournament

May 15th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sportscollege

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Mark Guhne finally exhaled last Monday when he learned that his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's golf team found itself in an NCAA Regional.

They were barely in. As in the last at-large team -- based on GolfStat Rankings -- to get into the field.

The Mocs earned the No. 11 seed in the West Regional which begins the first of three rounds today at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club. The top five teams advance to the NCAA championship tournament.

In order to do so, they'll need to keep their golf balls in play by a wider margin than how they entered the tournament.

"We've been working hard on our course management which is the one thing that's let us down this season," Guhne said. "We have made enough pars and enough birdies in every tournament to have a chance to win. But we have also made enough others which is why we're fifth, sixth, or seventh.

"If we eliminate that, I think we can play with anybody in the country."

The Mocs recorded six double-bogeys or worse over the final nine holes during the final round of the Southern Conference championship.

They finished runner-up to Georgia Southern by one stroke.

If one of those tee shots had stayed in bounds and saved two shots, the Mocs would have earned the automatic bid and saved Guhne two weeks of hand-wringing during the day and tossing-and-turning at night.

"You can't hit balls out of bounds at this level," Guhne said. "That's what we've been working on, and hopefully we've got that figured out and we'll get things done."

The players know their problems.

"We're making enough birdies and pars, but we need to get rid of the big numbers," freshman Ewan Scott said. "It's about course management and being mentally tough and not being quite up tight."

The Mocs are in an NCAA regional tournament for the eighth consecutive season. They've advanced to NCAA championships in 2009 at Inverness and 2012 at Riviera Country Club.

This bunch -- seniors Chris Robb and Davis Bunn, junior Liam Johnston and freshmen in Scott and Wes Gosselin -- has already played on big stages including NCAA tournaments for the veterans and USGA events for the freshmen.

"It can be nerve-wracking," Guhne said. "I've seen kids standing on the first tee with their knees shaking trying to hit a drive."

But UTC has already accomplished its priority goal for the season and reached an NCAA regional. As the No. 11 seed, they can play the role of unexpected underdog. The field in Oregon includes five teams ranked inside the top 30. UTC is No. 64.

"A lot of us have played good, but I don't think any of us have gone a whole tournament without a double-bogey," Johnston said. "Bogeys, you can deal with. Doubles add up real quick. We made them far too often this year."

But this year isn't over.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP