Young Commodores Meet the Challenge 4/24/02

Press McPhaul watched the trials and tribulations of his youthful Vanderbilt men’s golf team this season - never quite knowing what might happen next but certain that the finished product would come out fine.

His feeling proved accurate. The Commodores finished their season with a fourth place finish in the Southeastern Conference Championships, home of the nation’s finest collegiate golfers and teams.

The lengthy college golf season got off to a fast start for the Black and Gold last fall, winning the Navy Invitational and seeing freshman Mark Donnell tie for first place at the Adams Cup Invitational.

But just about the time people began to think there would be no learning curve necessary for this youth-dominated team, quick as a snap-hook, problems set in.

“As a team, we were like a yo-yo this spring,” McPhaul says. “The biggest problem seemed to be our inability to play well in the first round of a tournament. Going into last week’s event, we were nine shots a round better in our second round than our first.”

McPhaul says the team tried everything imaginable to break out of its opening day doldrums.

“We tried getting up earlier; we tried more stretching and exercise before teeing off. We tried everything and nothing seemed to work.”

In the end, McPhaul thinks the problems were a combination of things ranging from the over-eagerness of youth to putting too much pressure on themselves to reach their vast potential.

These early inconsistencies have made the late-season rally all the more satisfying to a Vanderbilt team that prior to last week had never finished better than ninth at the SEC’s. In fact, VU’s 874 stroke total was 17 shots better than the school’s all-time best in conference play.

“One of the most pleasing things to me about our performance at the SEC Championships,” McPhaul says, “is that we got ourselves in contention and our guys wanted to finish it out. We wanted to prove that we could beat highly ranked teams and prove to ourselves that we could live up to our potential.”

Indeed, Vanderbilt started it tournament, played on the beautiful but very difficult Seaside Course in Sea Island, Ga., with a solid round of 294.

The third day was one McPhaul will remember as a turning point for the program. Paired with two of the SEC’s best teams, defending SEC and former NCAA champion Georgia and Tennessee, things did not begin as scripted.

Sophomore Ken (Moose) Lewis is a good illustration. Lewis began his round with triple bogeys on No. 4 and 5 to find himself six over in just five holes.

But instead of folding, the former prep star from South Dennis, Mass., responded with a sensational 32 on the back nine to turn in a 73. His teammates came through with equal success.

“Here we were, paired with two of the best teams in the country for the last day,” McPhaul says, “and we played them stroke-for-stroke, beating Tennessee and finishing just behind Georgia. That experience taught us that we belong with those teams.”

Tennessee is ranked No. 7 nationally, Georgia No.14 and Georgia was defending SEC Champions.

The 2002 Commodore tournament team consists of one senior, graduate student Jeff Yeckes, junior star Brandt Snedeker, the sophomore Lewis and two freshmen - Donnell and Ben McClung.

While the team’s fourth place finish may have surprised the casual observer of SEC golf, McPhaul says it did not surprise other league coaches and, most importantly, did not surprise his own team.

“Our team has always thought it would come together,” McPhaul says. “They knew what they were capable of doing and were determined to show everyone else as well. They picked a good time to jell, people tend to remember how you finish.”

McPhaul had these comments about some of the Commodores:

Jeff Yeckes: “He’s getting his Masters in political science and he’s playing much better this year. I think he has a better mental approach to the game. He’s played some great rounds - four sup-par rounds - and he’s delivered when he really needed him.”

Brandt Snedeker: “He’s definitely one of the best golfers in the SEC, which makes him one of the best anywhere. About the only thing you can fault with his record is that he’s not won a tournament. And with the talent he has, it's just a matter of time before Brandt breaks into the win column. His record is outstanding and I feel fortunate as a coach to have him on my team.”

Mark Donnell: “He came in and played great (won at the Adams Cup and was fifth at the Mason Rudolph) and that got the expectations raised pretty high with him. This spring he had the normal freshman adjustment period. But you could see he was really getting his game back together about our Chapel Hill tournament. To finish in the top 10 in the SEC as a freshman is outstanding, the only other player we've had do that was Brandt in 2000.”

Ben McClung: “Ben gave us a big lift on the final day of the SEC Tournament (shooting 73). He’s going to be a mainstay in our future.”


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
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