Chattanooga golf coach Mark Guhne isn’t given to overstatement, so when he says he’s excited about the Mocs’ spring season, which begins this week, he does so with good reason.
First, there’s the obvious. Though 2012 U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox will still get to reap the benefits of that victory—little tournament called the Masters—he won’t miss a single spring event for the Mocs. Fox, chosen in late January to the Ben Hogan Award Watch List, is currently rated the No. 10 amateur golfer in the world.
Clearly, Fox’s confidence has soared after winning the Amateur and also playing well in several major international tournaments and, for one round at least, in the Farmers Insurance Classic on the PGA Tour. He opened with a 2-under-par 70 and was just five strokes after the lead after the first round, but he shot 78 the next day and missed the cut. Still, the experience will serve him well in college competition.
“More from a mental standpoint than anything else,” Guhne said. “I think the expectations he places on himself, and that everybody else places on him, can make you go one of two ways. It can either cause you to play poorly, and not be able to handle it. Or it can cause you to focus more.
“It think he’s focused more on his bad rounds because he’s turned his bad rounds into better rounds. That’s been his biggest improvement. He knows he’s a player because he won the U.S. Amateur. That’s got to give you confidence.”
Fox is far from UTC’s only stalwart. Scottish imports Chris Robb, a junior, and sophomore Liam Johnston both played well in the fall. Robb led the Mocs with his 71.73 stroke average and won the last tournament of the season, the Bridgestone Golf Collegia, with scores of 72-66-69.
Johnston finished third on the team in fall stroke average and posted a pair of top-20 finishes, including a tie for 11th at Carpet Capital Collegiate.
Guhne is pleased with the resurgence of his No. 4 man, junior Davis Bunn, who is playing as well as he did as a freshman. The key has been course and game management.
“He did that pretty well as a freshman,” Guhne said. “I think he tried to start doing things that he didn’t need to do that really very few people in the world are capable of doing. It just made the game awfully hard for him. It magnified his mistakes.”
These days, Bunn is trying to keep things simple. It’s all about hitting fairways and greens in regulation.
“When he does that he’s under par,” Guhne said. “His high scores are one or two over at the most. He’s managing the ability he has, which is probably the hardest things for guys at this level to do.
“(Former UTC All-American) Jonathan Hodge has helped him out a lot with that. He told Davis you’re trying to do things that we don’t do (on the Web.com Tour). Very few times guys playing for a living are actually aiming at the hole. They’re aiming for spots where, if they miss, all they have to do is two putt and got to the next hole. Or if they hit their spot they have a good shot at birdie. They’re not trying to jar it from 200 yards with a 5-iron.”
Guhne was encouraged last week when he took his four through eight men to Savannah, Ga. to compete in an individual tournament sponsored by Southern Conference rivals UTC and Georgia Southern. Nine teams and more than 40 players took part, and the Mocs were all over the leaderboard. Bunn finished fourth, freshman Kory Webb fifth, junior Benni Weilguni ninth and senior Alex Ratliff 16th.
“It was just an opportunity to get the bottom halves of our lineups more opportunity to play and more experience and for the coaches to see who can play on the road,” Guhne said. “That’s key for us. A lot of guys can play around town.”
Weilguni locked down the No. 5 spot in the Mocs’ final pre-spring qualifying round at Black Creek on Friday. That, too, has Guhne encouraged.
“He’s been a top 50 player in the country before,” Guhne said. “We need to get him back to where he is that guy. When you’ve been in the top 50 before, you know in your mind you’re good enough to play with anybody.”
The Mocs start their spring season at the Bayou City Collegiate Championship at Humble, Tex. on Friday. They also play in the Auburn Tiger Shootout (March 11-12), the Furman Intercollegiate (March 22-24) and the Reunion Intercollegiate (Apri 1-2) before postseason play begins with the SoCon Championship (April 21-23).
There is extra incentive for the Mocs to perform in the NCAA regionals. The finals will be played at the Capital City Club's Crabapple Course in Atlanta May 28-June 2.