Blue Raiders head south for spring opener in Mobile

Turnbow expects hard work over the winter to pay off

February 21, 2011 · MT Athletic Communications
The four months of "down" time between the end of collegiate fall golf, and the beginning of tournament play in the spring, could well be the most important part of the season. Especially if you have a young team, like Middle Tennessee men's golf coach Whit Turnbow does.

Turnbow used the off-season to let his players catch up on academics, and also get time in the weight room for an intense strength and conditioning program, under the direction of Michael Wilson. The team gets in as many practice days as the NCAA allows, and Turnbow uses those to hone their skills.

"We have gotten in a lot of good work in the weight room since the last time we played in mid-October," said Turnbow. "The guys are stronger. The strength and conditioning aspect has been good. And our grades are fine.

"Part of the commitment to play at this level is trying to stay sharp, to keep playing competitively even when we are all off, whether during the summer, or over the Christmas break. We've actually gotten in quite a bit of golf as well, they have gotten their legs under them, and we are ready to go to Mobile."

The Blue Raiders will tee off the spring schedule on Monday and Tuesday at the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. It will be a 54-hole event, with 36 on Monday and 18 on Tuesday. The tournament will be played on the Magnolia Grove Crossings golf course, a par-72 Robert Trent Jones course.

MTSU finished fifth last year, and senior Kent Bulle was co-medalist with a three-under-par 213. The Blue Raiders will be without Bulle, who turned pro at the end of last season, but Turnbow feels like the presence of a strong freshman class and the emergence of junior Brad Simons will have his team in contention once again.

Senior Jason Millard, junior Hunter Green and freshman Brett Patterson are exempt from the qualifying process that Turnbow uses, and they will be joined by Simons and freshman Paul Sansom as the five players making the trip.

"The guy that has really stepped forward to this point is Brad. He played as good as I've seen him play since he's been here in last year's NCAA West Regional," Turnbow noted. "He made a couple of changes in his game over the summer, and they didn't exactly work out, so he had to go back to what he was doing, and he struggled in the fall. But over the break, and the first month we've been back in school, he's really come on strong."

Turnbow told Simons before the Christmas holidays that, if the team was to accomplish what it needed to accomplish, he was going to have to be a big part of it.

"He's been ready to go since we got back, and if he will step in the lineup and play with his experience, as many tournaments as he's played in since he's been here, that's invaluable.

"Brad's played all the golf courses that we'll play this spring, he's been around and knows them. He struggled this fall, but to see him step back up and come so far early in the spring has been great".

If Simons continues to play well and becomes a constant in the lineup, that will make the team four deep, and allow Turnbow to rotate some others in the fifth spot.

"That would be ideal, because that would give us some serious depth," said Turnbow. "Brad stepping up has really helped us. That will get everybody involved and give us some pretty stiff competition in the bottom of the lineup.

Turnbow has also been pleased with the way his senior leader, Jason Millard, has taken charge of the team.

"He has emerged as the team leader, and has had great success over the break. He finished third in the Dixie Amateur, and was also chosen as a member of the United States team in the World University Games in China this summer. He could well be the best player in the Sun Belt this spring."

Turnbow says the Mobile tournament will "knock the rust off. Everybody down there will be rusty from lack of activity over the break, but by the time we finish there and head to Tampa a couple of weeks after that, we should be good to go.

"We have five tournaments this spring, and based on where we are in the national rankings right now, we are not in a position where we can just cruise through the spring. We've got to be ready to go, week in and week out. We can't have an off or down week, we can't have a 10th place finish in the spring. We have to be ready to go each week, so it's a little bit different scenario for us."

The goal for all of Turnbow's teams is always to get themselves in a position before the Sun Belt tournament so that they don't have to win the SBC to go to the NCAA tournament.

"If we take care of business over these first five tournaments, we can get there." said Turnbow.

"I feel like we've done a good job the last couple of months getting prepared, but it's always a different animal when you put them between the white lines and they have a scorecard in their pocket. It's always a different situation."

Turnbow believes that UNC-Charlotte may be the strongest team in the field, but that Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, South Alabama on their home course, and Vanderbilt will be strong contenders in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. Other Sun Belt teams will be Arkansas State, ULL, and Troy.

Blue Raider fans can follow the action both days on golfstat.com.

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