Young Commodores Meet the
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
“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
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
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
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.”