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March 20, 2013

Going for it

By: Jimmy Robertson

After making the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships a year ago, the Hokies have nearly all of their roster back and high expectations for the upcoming season

Mikey Moyers is the Hokies’ lone senior and will be counted on
to lead this team this spring.

On the day of Jan. 31, Virginia Tech golf coach Jay Hardwick and the distinguished golf staff at the Hokies’ beautiful home golf course, the Pete Dye River Course, stood in the clubhouse and watched helplessly as the New River, aided by torrential rainfall, poured out of its banks and engulfed a portion of the course.

The flooding ruined some bunkers and left strands of silt in fairways and on greens. It, combined with normally unpredictable Southwest Virginia winter weather, also kept the golf team from practicing in preparation for the Hokies’ spring season.

“We’ve only played three rounds of golf,” Hardwick said just days before the Hokies opened their spring season at the Puerto Rico Classic in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Feb. 17 – an event in which they finished seventh as a team. “That’s it. That’s the least we’ve ever played (before a season).”

Fortunately, though, the River Course has been cleaned up, and the flooding certainly hasn’t submerged the Hokies’ 2013 expectations, as Hardwick returns four of five golfers who participated in the program’s surprising run to the Division I NCAA Men’s Golf Championships last spring.

Paced by smooth-swinging freshman Scott Vincent, Tech finished a respectable 24th in the event held at the famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Vincent shot 6-over-par, tying him for 45th position in the individual competition.

The Hokies lost Blake Redmond off last season’s team, but other than Redmond, the entire roster returns. The roster includes just one senior in Mikey Moyers, but Vincent, fellow sophomore Trevor Cone and junior Bryce Chalkley all participated in Tech’s run last year. So this young, but experienced, group won’t be laying up when it comes to goals for this spring – a return to the Division I NCAA Men’s Golf Championships.

“Absolutely,” Hardwick said of his team’s lofty goals. “I was very encouraged to think we were going to have four of those five guys returning (going into the 2012-13 season), and those have been the guys who have been the most consistent.

“We’re still a young team, with only one senior. In the starting lineup, we’ve got a senior, a junior, two sophomores and a freshman (Maclain Huge). While we’re young, four of those guys have played in the national championship. So that says a lot there.”

Hardwick’s team got off to a strong start this past fall, finishing eighth or better in all five tournaments. The Hokies won the Marshall Invitational, shooting 16-under-par as a team, and they won the VCU Shootout as well, where they shot 14-over. The program notched its first victory since March of 2010.

Not surprisingly, Vincent played well this fall and headlines the group as the Hokies’ top player. The sophomore from Harare, Zimbabwe, started 13 events as a freshman and really played well down the stretch. He finished third at the NCAA South Central Regional held in Bowling Green, Ky., and then capped his rookie year with the strong showing at Riviera.

This past fall, Vincent recorded two top-five finishes and a top-10 in four tournaments. He missed one tournament while competing for Zimbabwe at the World Amateur Team Championships held in Turkey. He shot 2-under-par in that tournament and finished in 32nd.

“His career changed at the ACC Championships (where Vincent finished 21st),” Hardwick said. “He played well there, and he played extremely well at the regional. Then he played pretty well at the NCAAs, and he’s played good since then. So postseason play helped him take it to another level.

“He should be ready. He’s been home to Zimbabwe over winter break, and he’s had the opportunity to play in great weather. He should be ready more than any of our other players. It was summer in Zimbabwe, so weather wasn’t an issue for him.”

Scott Vincent played well at Riviera Country Club during the
NCAA Championships and carried that over in the fall when he
recorded two top-five finishes.

Vincent figures to get plenty of help from Moyers, the lone senior and arguably the most talented player on the squad. Moyers, who missed the final round of the NCAA Championships because of an illness, has been a little inconsistent in his career, but Hardwick expects a big senior season from him.

Moyers got started on a positive note this fall when he finished tied for fifth at the VCU Shootout after shooting a 1-over-par for the tournament. He also recorded a top-10 finish at the Marshall Invitational and a top-20 finish at the Brickyard Collegiate Golf Championship held in Macon, Ga.

In Puerto Rico, Moyer started the spring season in fine fashion, shooting 7-under-par for the tournament. He and Vincent finished in a tie for fifth place overall.

“I hope so,” Hardwick said when asked if this will be the year Moyers puts everything together. “He’s playing well. He’s a senior. He’s got the talent. I really look for Mikey to have a good spring.”

Cone and Chalkley solidify the third and fourth spots in Hardwick’s lineup. Cone, a sophomore from Concord, N.C., actually led the team in scoring last season with a 73.13 average, and he made the Golf Coaches Association of America All-East Region squad after a year in which he recorded five top-20 finishes.

Cone recorded two top-10 finishes this fall. He finished sixth at the Marshall Invitational and sixth at the Brickyard Collegiate Golf Championship.

“He’s the one who’s got the capability to shoot a really low number,” Hardwick said. “His fall was a little disappointing in as much as what he did last year. But he seems to be playing pretty well now.

“He was our player of the year last year and our rookie of the year, so certainly, he’s a guy we count on. His golf swing is so natural and so good. He can be one of our low shooters because he hits so many quality golf shots.”

Chalkley, the junior from Richmond, provides the consistency Hardwick likes. The young man doesn’t shoot low scores that often, but he also rarely shoots high ones.

This past fall, Chalkley recorded two top-20 finishes and one top-10, claiming 10th at the Marshall Invitational. To provide evidence of his consistency, he only shot one round in the 60s this fall, but only two rounds worse than 75 – and none worse than 78.

“He’s the only player on the team whose score counted every round this fall,” Hardwick said. “Bryce is playing pretty well. He’s a hard worker, and I never worry about him. He never gives up out there. He never gets down and lets a shot or two get away because he’s upset. He’s really a grinder. That’s why you see his score counting all the time. He’s gotten better every semester. He reminds me of (former player) Johnson Wagner in how much he’s improved.”

The rest of the roster includes redshirt juniors Marc MacDonald and Jacob Everts, sophomore Miles Curley and freshman Maclain Huge. Huge (pronounced hugh-gee), the tall, long bomber from Lovettsville, Va., earned the fifth spot in the Hokies’ lineup following a solid fall in which he recorded three top-25 finishes.

Huge struggled in Tech’s last two fall tournaments, but Hardwick thinks enough of Huge’s potential to keep him in the lineup.

“He’s got unbelievable talent,” Hardwick said. “He’s got as much upside as any player I’ve ever had. He has struggled with his swing, and when you’ve got a kid who is that big and that long, when it gets going sideways, it’s going a long way off line. His last two tournaments, he played poorly.

“He’s probably the hardest worker on the team. From the day the fall season was over, he was down in our team center hitting balls every day. He doesn’t feel like he can miss a day. He’ll get it figured out. I think he’d be the first to tell you he was disappointed with his fall season. Right now, it’s a work in progress with him.”

While he set his lineup pretty much before the season started, Hardwick made some changes to his schedule – largely because of the university’s academic calendar. The school’s spring break is a week later this year, thus forcing the golf team to miss its normal early March trip to Pinehurst, N.C., for the Pinehurst Intercollegiate and its annual outing with the “Hackin’ Hokies,” a fundraising group that supports Tech golf. Instead, the Hokies will play in the Mission Inn Spring Spectacular held at the Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., on March 16-17.

Also, the River Landing Intercollegiate, held in Wallace, N.C., was cancelled this year. Hardwick liked playing in that tournament because it occurred just a couple of weeks before the ACC Championships. Forced to adjust, he got the Hokies into a 36-hole event, the Navy Spring Invitational held at the U.S. Naval Academy Golf Club in Annapolis, Md.

“I’ve never played a two-day, 36-hole event,” Hardwick said. “I don’t particularly like them. A good team can have a bad round, and a bad team can have a good round, and you can’t catch up in two rounds.

“But the coach at Navy is a good friend of mine, and they have a really fine golf course, one of the top-25 college courses in the country. It’s a week before the ACC’s, and it’s on the weekend, so we’ll only miss one day of school. A lot of our alumni live up there, and we don’t get up there much, so hopefully they’ll be able to come and watch.”

Hardwick, though, is more worried about what may transpire later in the spring. The school’s exam schedule coincides with the NCAA Regionals, meaning that the players will be coordinating exams while prepping for the regionals, provided they make regional play – something they’ve done the past six years.

“That happened to us four years ago when we went to Texas for the regionals,” Hardwick said. “We had to take exams early and study and practice, and we were just useless (in the regional). We just played terrible, and we’re going to have this for the next two years.”

There is a lot of golf to be played between now and then, however. Tech hopes to better its finishes from last spring when it finished seventh or better in every tournament. The Hokies also hope to fare better at the ACC Championships. A year ago, behind Redmond’s third-place finish in the individual race, Tech came in tied for fourth.

As usual, the league is loaded. As of press time, Duke and Georgia Tech stood in the top 10, according to Golfweek, with Florida State and Clemson in the top 20. Wake Forest and North Carolina sat in the top 31.

“It’s always one of the best in the country,” Hardwick said of the ACC.

But the Hokies have talent, too. Hardwick only hopes they have more than enough to overcome poor weather, a flood, a different schedule and stout competition. After all, a seventh straight NCAA regional appearance hangs in the balance.