Former UTC Mocs unite at Web.com tour event

Former UTC Mocs unite at Web.com tour event

August 14th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

UTC coach Mark Guhne

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Stephan Jaeger

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

There will be a family reunion Friday.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's golf coach Mark Guhne plans to travel that day to the Knoxville News Sentinel Open, where he will witness three of his former players competing. The tournament starts Thursday.

"I can't wait to go up this week and see them," Guhne said. "It's really cool to have them in the same event, at the same time and on the Web.com Tour -- just one step away from the PGA Tour."

Jonathan Hodge began the year on the Web.com Tour. Stephan Jaeger earned his way in through his success this season. And Derek Rende earned a spot this week by finishing runner-up in an NGA Hooters Tour event earlier this summer.

"Having three of us in the field speaks volumes for the program and what we've been able to do in the last few years," Rende said. "We're not only putting out good college players, but amateurs and pros who are able to climb the ranks."

The Knoxville Open comes at a crucial time for each of the former Mocs, who aspire to play on the PGA Tour and compete against the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner.

Only two Web.com Tour events remain for players to move inside the top 25 on its money list and earn PGA Tour cards. The next 50 on the money list join them in securing spots in the Tour Championship. The Tour Championship will include the top 75 players on the Web.com Tour as well as those ranked 126-200 on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup points list.

Jonathan Hodge

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

Derek Rende

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Jaeger is ranked No. 114. Hodge is No. 154. Rende is not ranked at all. Obviously this a crucial week for the former Mocs.

"We're going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst," Jaeger said. "Two good weeks will get me in the playoffs, and that's the goal for now. With one good week I could go straight to the PGA Tour."

This week is a mix of business and pleasure for the players and Guhne as well. Jaeger and Hodge have played in a handful of tournamentsagainst each other. The addition of Rende this week adds to the enjoyment because they plan to play a practice round together today at Fox Den Country Club.

"I haven't seen Derek in a while and I haven't played against him in almost a year," Jaeger said. "Hopefully we'll do well and folks from Chattanooga will come up and watch and we'll get a crowd going."

Hodge has the best home-field advantage of the trio even though all three grew up in Tennessee. Hodge grew up in Strawberry Plains, a short cruise to Fox Den, and has played the course more than a dozen times. Family and friends will be there rooting for him on every shot.

"It's definitely nice being here with family and friends," Hodge said. "It's great to be home. It's like any other week, but I'm sleeping in my old bed and eating Mom's cooking."

The three Mocs competing this week in the Web.com Tour event made UTC golf history. Their 2009 team was the first UTC team to reach the NCAA tournament championship tournament.

Combined, Hodge, Rende and Jaeger have won five Southern Conference golfer of the year awards and helped UTC win the SoCon four times in a six-year span.

"It's really cool for all of us to be in a Web.com tournament so close to home," Rende said Sunday. "UTC will be represented well. It will be nice to hang out with the guys. I haven't seen them in a while. It will kind of be like old times."

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