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March 10, 2011

TEEING OFF - Virginia Tech's golf team opens the spring portion of its season with designs on playing in an NCAA regional at its home course - the Pete Dye River Course

By: Jimmy Robertson

For every collegiate golf tournament, a team is allowed to count five players’ scores to its overall total, so eight golfers should be plenty for a college program’s roster.

But Virginia Tech head coach Jay Hardwick was beginning to doubt that.

The Hokies opened their 2011 spring season by playing in the Puerto Rico Classic in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 20-22, and they did so with only five healthy golfers.

That number didn’t include Marshall Bailey, a senior who qualified for the NCAA Championships a year ago as an individual. Bailey participated in Puerto Rico despite suffering a foot injury shortly before Christmas. He slipped on the deck of his family’s home in Fincastle, Va., and damaged the tendon sheath and nerves in his foot.

Doctors originally thought Bailey had torn the tendon – an injury that would have cost him the spring season – but a Christmas Eve surgery revealed no damage to the tendon.

With Bailey hurting, Aaron Eckstein already out (left hand injury), and Jacob Everts redshirting while being treated for pre-type 1 diabetes, the Hokies suddenly found themselves low on healthy bodies.

“We’ve got Aaron out and Jacob, who is redshirting,” Hardwick said. “If Marshall had been out [for the season], we’d have been down to five players, so we’d have been in a pinch. We were in a very dangerous situation. Right now, we’re working hard to get Aaron healthy. We need him. He’s got the ability to shoot a very low number, and that’s what you need to win tournaments.”

Though not quite 100 percent healthy, Bailey still fired an impressive 7-under-par score to finish in a tie for fourth place in Puerto Rico – the best finish of his career. As a team, the Hokies finished in fifth place in an absolutely loaded field. The Classic featured nine of the top 15 teams in the country, including No. 1 Oklahoma State according to the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings. Tech started the season at No. 53.

The Hokies, though, were optimistic following the tournament, and for good reason. A year ago, they finished 12th in Puerto Rico and yet scrambled back to play well the rest of the spring, qualifying as a No. 11 seed at the Notre Dame regional.

"There were three players to come out of Virginia that year – one went to Duke (Brinson Paolini), one went to Wake (Evan Beck) and one went to Virginia Tech (Mikey Moyers). I told him [Moyers] that I thought we got the best player. I still do. He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s matured. ”
– Jay Hardwick

Part of their confidence also stems from having five starters returning and another part of it from having played well in the fall. The Hokies never finished lower than ninth in five tournaments in the fall and finished in third twice. They ended the fall with a third-place finish at the UNCG Bridgestone Invitational in Greensboro, N.C., shooting 22-under-par as a team.

“I was happy with the way we finished the fall,” Hardwick said. “We had some bright spots, but we didn’t play as consistently as I would have liked.

“Yet we never had a bad tournament. We never finished worse than ninth, and we had two thirds [third-place finishes]. We were in third in the last tournament [UNCG Bridgestone Invitational] and shot 22-under. We had four kids in the top 20 and shot 12 rounds of par or better, so all those were encouraging things for us.”

Bailey, a senior, headlines the group. Tech’s lone NCAA qualifier, he paced the Hokies in the fall with three top-20 finishes, including a fifth-place finish at the Brickyard Intercollegiate held in Macon, Ga. Bailey shot 4-under-par in that tournament and finished the fall with a 71.4 scoring average. He never finished worse than 23rd in any tournament in the fall.

“Marshall’s a quiet leader,” Hardwick said. “Players know that when Marshall’s in the lineup, he’s going to put up a number that they’re not going to have to worry about. Having the other players know that he’s going to have a number out there is being a leader in its own right.”

Mikey Moyers, a sophomore from Stanardsville, Va., won team MVP honors a year ago after an outstanding rookie campaign. Like Bailey, he recorded three top-20 finishes in the fall, including a top-five that came at UNCG Bridgestone Invitational. He shot 10-under-par in that tournament and possesses the type of talent to consistently shoot low scores. He led the team in scoring average (73.06) as a freshman.

“I think he’s got a chance to be – and I told him, I put the pressure on him – the all-time scoring leader when he leaves,” Hardwick said. “He’s No. 2 right now behind [former Tech golfer] Brendon [de Jonge].

“There were three players to come out of Virginia that year – one went to Duke (Brinson Paolini), one went to Wake (Evan Beck) and one went to Virginia Tech (Moyers). I told him [Moyers] that I thought we got the best player. I still do. He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s matured.”

Marshall Bailey, one of three seniors on the squad, got the spring season started on a great note by finishing tied for fourth in Puerto Rico - the best finish of his career.

The rest of Tech’s roster includes steady guys with the ability to shoot low scores on any given day. Senior Garland Green recorded a top-20 finish this fall, while freshman Bryce Chalkley had two top-20 finishes, including a 12th-place finish in his first collegiate tournament. Junior Blake Redmond finished tied for third on the team in scoring average at 73.2 following the fall season, and Marc MacDonald, a redshirt freshman, shot even par in his first tournament.

“I don’t think anyone’s not broken out,” Hardwick said. “Blake probably has been the guy who has been right there. He’s been very consistent. He’s never going to cost you a golf tournament. If he could break out and shoot those low 60s rounds, then he could be a sleeper.”

For Hardwick, though, the keys to this team’s success will be staying healthy and getting Eckstein, a senior and the team’s captain, back. Eckstein’s return would give the Hokies a deeper lineup to help them contend at the ACC Championships, where they finished eighth a year ago. His return would also enhance their chances at receiving one of the 53 at-large berths to the NCAA regionals, provided they don’t win the ACC crown.

The carrot for playing well comes in the form of playing at home for the regional. Tech’s home course, the Pete Dye River Course, will be the location for one of those regionals, and the Hokies, if they qualify, will be playing at the friendly confines on May 19-21.

It marks the first signature event for the course, which debuted at No. 18 among the best college campus courses by Golfweek. Only Duke’s home course came in higher among ACC schools.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase Virginia Tech,” Hardwick said. “We’ve got a golf course that can stand up to any national championship course, and we’ve got a beautiful new clubhouse. This is an honor for Virginia Tech and for our Pete Dye River Course. Everyone’s committed to making it a great regional, and we’re hoping everyone will come out and watch it.”



(as told by Jay Hardwick, Tech head coach and director of golf operations)


“Our superintendent [Mark Cote] started an intensive program late last fall, with heavy fertilization and working with the rough. We’ve aerified all the fairways in the fall and we’ve top-dressed the fairways. That’s something courses never do, and we’ve done it twice. They’ve come through the winter well. They’re firm, and they drain well. For a championship, you want fairways that are hard and fast. The fairways will be tighter than they normally are.”


“We have to have the rough a minimum of 3 inches and green speeds have to be 11 to 11.5 [on the stimpmeter, a device that measures the speed of a green]. Right now, our speeds are about 9.5, which is a good speed for our members to play. You get 11 or 11.5, and that’s quick.

“We’re working on the roughs. We want them thick and consistent. Then they’ll be taller, and we’ll cut them. They’ll be 3 inches, maybe 3.5. The NCAA allows for 4, but I’m not sure about that. If we don’t get a lot of rain and the golf course is hard and fast, and the green speeds are where we want, I don’t think they can play that course. Three will be plenty enough of a test.”


“The course is 7,685 yards. It’s the longest golf course in the state, and it would be the longest course for any regional or national championship. I just don’t think they’ll play it at that, though I think it’s a fair golf course at that. I hope they’ll play it between 7,400-7,500 each day. I’m not sure they will. The set-up people may want it to play a little easier.”


“They’ll send a tournament coordinator, and we’ll work with them. We’ll make some recommendations. We’ve got multiple tees [tee boxes]. We’ll play some combination of black and maroon tees. I don’t think we’ll play all black or all maroon. I don’t think we’ll play any of the whites. Our maroon tees are 7,088 yards, and our black tees are 7,685. We’ve got five tee boxes on every hole. It’s a perfect course on every hole because you can do so much with it.

“We’ll have the course ready on the 17th. They’ll spend the day marking it. Then on Wednesday, that’s the day for the practice round. Then on Thursday at 8, we’ll start.”


“We’re hoping a lot of people come and watch. There is no charge. We need a lot of volunteers, too. We’ll have walking scores with every group. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact the athletics department. We’ll need over 100 volunteers. Spotters, scorers … you name it.

“A couple of other things to note. There are 100 parking spaces where the trailers – the old clubhouse – used to be. The parking at the new clubhouse will be for the teams and the officials. We’re looking at parking at auxiliary sites and maybe doing some shuttles. We’re hoping people will come in groups and car pool, if they can.”