Sep 8, 2013
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – With plenty of familiar faces and a few key additions, Rice University men’s golf opens a much anticipated fall campaign on Monday at the Sam H. Hall Intercollegiate, hosted by Southern Miss.
The Owls bring back everyone but graduate Brock Wilson from the 2012-13 squad, which improved throughout the season and set new expectations as a quickly maturing squad. Head coach Justin Emil is enthusiastic and optimistic about this season’s prospects.
“It’s great to have the guys back from a long summer,” Emil said. “We had a lot of good success individually playing in amateur events. Most notably, newcomer Kevin Reilly qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and some other top events, including Joe Beck and Tommy Economou competing in the Trans-Miss Amateur Tournament. Also, Landon Michelson had a strong July, playing in the Magnolia Invitational at the Hattiesburg Country Club, where we open the season, and also in the New England Amateur, where he finished fourth.”
“I’m very excited to get the guys back to Houston and out in practice, just to see where their games are. We didn’t have a whole lot of time starting with classes last week and playing our first tournament so soon. But I’m very excited because I’ve seen a lot of really good things in practice, lots of low numbers in qualifying and we’re opening at a tournament where about 75 percent of the lineup has played the golf course and understand it and it actually fits their games very well. We’re playing on the same Bermuda grass that we play on here in Houston. We expect some healthy Bermuda rough there and it’s a field that has some really good teams from the SEC and Conference USA as well as some local teams that we’re used to seeing.”
“I feel really strong about this group of guys and the work that they’ve put in these two weeks and over the summer to prepare for this tournament and the fall season. We’re doing a lot of new things in practice and in workouts, and I believe our preparation is going to be better this year than in years past. I’m very encouraged about them, and the new guys in – Alex Levy, Kevin and Paul Saad – and they’ve already made an impact on our program and made us deeper in the lineup. Overall, we’ve got a group of guys that I believe can individually win a tournament, so that means we will win as a team.”
The Owls also opened last fall at the Sam H. Hall Intercollegiate, claiming 14th place with team scores of 292 in each of the first two rounds. Beck and Lee tied for the team lead at the event in 29th place with scores of 217 (+4). Beck carded a pair of 72s while Lee set the Owls’ low mark of the tournament with a 71 in the second round.
This year’s tournament is the first of four before the semester ends, as the Owls play events in Fort Collins, Colo. (Ram Masters Invitational – Sept. 16-17), Baton Rouge, La. (David Toms Intercollegiate – Oct. 5-6) and Kiawah Island, South Carolina (The Invitational at the Ocean Course – Oct. 27-29).
Emil added, “We play an amazing schedule this year and I think it’s wonderful for the guys on the team, first of all, because it’s important for their experiences, and the competition they face. It’s our goal to put them up against the best teams in the country on the best golf courses. That way we have the best opportunity to get better, develop our games, and actually see where we’re at, especially in the fall season. We’ve got four great fall tournaments. Southern Miss is a really good one, it always has a great field. From there we go to Colorado State where we’re going to get to see some west coast teams as well as others from across the country, and some teams we don’t typically see in our region.”
“Then we get to go over to LSU where we will play a strong field on a very difficult golf course. It’s frequently an NCAA Regional site at the University Club. We get to finish the fall season at a PGA Major Championship golf course in the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which will be an awesome event for us to play in and a great test for our games on a golf course that is challenging at the very top level of golf - on the PGA Tour and worldwide.”
“So we’re very much looking forward to that event and also into the spring where we have a great schedule of tournaments kicking off at our home tournament at Westwood Golf Club and the co-host with Houston the same week at Redstone, where they have the PGA Tour’s Shell Houston Open. It’s just really excited to get the guys playing these championship-level golf courses and against some of the best teams in the country because the vision we have as a team and that I have as a coach is our program being a national contender. In order for us to get there, we have to measure ourselves against the best teams in the country and find out from those experiences what we can do to make it to that level.”
Monday’s competition at the Hattiesburg Country Club includes the first and second rounds of action, with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start. Rice’s players begin on holes 10 (Joe Beck III and Kevin Reilly), 11 (Landon Michelson), 12 (Alex Levy and James Lee) and 17 (Trey Johnson).
Tuesday’s final round opens with the first tee times at 8 a.m. at the par-71, 6,882-yard course, which was established in 1959. In addition to Rice and host Southern Miss, the field includes: Arkansas State, Houston Baptist, Jackson State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Mercer, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Sam Houston State, South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana, UTSA and Texas Tech.
Last season’s stroke leader, Jeff Wibawa, will earn a redshirt this season as he completes rehabilitation from an offseason injury and compete as a senior in 2014-15. With Michelson as the team’s elder statesman this season, it will be the third year in a row for the young Owls to feature just one senior on the active roster.