April 21, 2018
Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina men’s golf opens its quest for the program’s first-ever team title and the automatic bid to the NCAA regional field that it comes with it as the 2018 Southern Conference Men’s Golf Championship opens Sunday for the fifth consecutive year at the par-72, 7,122-yard Pinehurst No. 9 in Pinehurst, N.C.
The three-day, 54-hole tournament opens with twosomes teeing off at 8:00 am on Sunday. Paired with golfers from Furman, WCU’s scoring five will open the tournament on the back nine, teeing off on No. 10 beginning at 8:45 am. Live scoring of each round is available online at GolfStatResults.com.
This year’s event will be the 11th SoCon Championship played in Pinehurst. The event was also held in Pinehurst in 1937, 1939, 1948, 1969 and 1979-80, all on famed No. 2. The past five have been held on the No. 9 course, formerly known as the National Golf Club. The league’s eight teams — ETSU, Furman, Mercer, UNCG, Samford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Wofford — will be competing for the SoCon tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals. The individual medalist will also earn an automatic regional qualification if he is not on the winning team.
“It’s always a treat heading to Pinehurst for the Southern Conference Championship. Pinehurst No. 9 is a tremendous test and a course that should set up well for this team,” said WCU head coach Tim Eckberg. “Although as a team we haven’t played the golf we are capable of yet this year, we’ve had our eyes on this championship week since August. I know the potential of this group and when our pieces are firing, we feel that we can compete with anyone in our conference.”
He added, “Top-to-bottom, we need our best; now it’s time to go get it.”
The Pinehurst No. 9 course features wide fairways, lush course conditions and undulating putting surfaces that test the minds and abilities of golfers. According to Golf Digest, the course “has come to enhance even the lofty Sandhills image for world-class golf amenities.” The course was originally designed in 1988 by Jack Nicklaus before it was redesigned and restored in 2012, again by Nicklaus. Slopes, sand bunkers and a modest amount of water hazards protect the course that is shaded by the Carolina pines of eastern North Carolina.
After consecutive sixth-place finishes in 2015 and 2016, WCU’s golfers look to build off last season’s fifth-place showing at the conference’s season-culminating event. Senior Dylan MacQueen paced the squad, finishing among an 11th-place tie at last year’s event with a three-round score of 224, an average of 74.67. The programs best overall finish at the conference championship was a runner-up showing back in 1986 with a pair of third-place showings in 2008 and 2009.
MacQueen led the Catamounts during the regular season with a seasonal stroke average of 73.47 — a mark that ranked him 12th in the SoCon individual rankings. The Woodstock, Ontario, native was one of just three golfers in the SoCon to claim first-place finishes during the regular season — winning the Phoenix Intercollegiate with a pair of school records including the best single-round score of 62 on the way to a WCU 54-hole record score of 200.
Combined, WCU’s roster had two of the three first-places in the SoCon this season as senior Jackson Bishop finished regulation tied atop the leaderboard at the Manor Intercollegiate where he was joined by MacQueen and one other. Bishop collected SoCon Men’s Golfer of the Week plaudits on April 4, the 11th weekly honor for WCU men’s golf all-time and the first since 2015. Bishop had an up-and-down season, averaging 76.93 strokes per round, third on the team.
Freshman Michael Coe ranked 41st in the SoCon this season with a stroke average of 76.38 and was followed by junior transfer George Whitbread (77.39) and senior Bright Julamool (77.77), who aside from MacQueen and Bishop posted the next-best top finish with a 14th-place showing at the Manor Intercollegiate helping the Catamounts to a season-best third-place team finish.
Three-time defending champion ETSU won its league-record 20th SoCon title in 2017, earning an eight-stroke victory over UNCG, which has finished runner-up to the Bucs in each of the last three seasons. ETSU’s Geuntae Kim and UNCG’s Jonathan Brightwell were tied atop the individual leaderboard after 54 holes last season, but Kim won a sudden-death playoff for medalist honors and became the Bucs’ second straight individual winner.
UNCG, which like WCU is seeking its first SoCon team title, enters the tournament with the best team scoring average in the league this season at 292.53, but Furman (293.57) and ETSU (293.76) are right behind the Spartans. ETSU is the top-ranked league team in the Golfstat rankings at No. 75, followed by UNCG (98) and Chattanooga (103).
In addition to the Bucs’ 20 titles, current league members Furman (13) and Chattanooga (six) have SoCon championships to their credit. Furman’s last was in 2010, while Chattanooga claimed consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013.
ETSU and Furman share the SoCon record with 14 individual medalists each. WCU has seen three golfers claim medalist honors a total of five times including Bruce Kullman (1991), Matt Cook (2006 and 2008), and most recently, J.T. Poston in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015.
The Southern Conference Men’s Golf Championship boasts a rich history. Dating back to 1933, the tournament has produced winners such as Wake Forest’s Arnold Palmer (1948 and 1949) and Furman’s Brad Faxon (1983), both SoCon Hall-of-Famers, and current PGA TOUR pros Poston, Stephan Jaeger of Chattanooga (2012), and William McGirt of Wofford (2001).
Complete recaps will be made available online at CatamountSports.com and SoConSports.com throughout the tournament.