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39th annual Schenkel Invitational gets underway
Georgia Southern's Brett Barron sets up his birdie putt at the 18th green with a shot from the bunker during the second round of last year's Schenkel Invitaional at Forest Heights Country Club.

    For the 39th time, a gathering of some of the best men’s collegiate golf teams have descended upon Statesboro as Georgia Southern prepares to host the Schenkel Invitational. For the next three days, teams from 14 schools will trek around Forest Heights Country Club in search of victory at one of the banner events on the NCAA calendar.

“The team has been playing well and we've got some momentum coming off of our spring events,” GS coach Carter Collins said. “It's been building up to this and we're always really excited about this week.”

Four years ago, the Eagles were able to win their home event for the first time in history. Georgia Southern nearly repeated the feat last season, leading on Sunday morning and into the afternoon before finishing up second.

This season, hopes are high once again.

Georgia Southern boasts Steven Fisk, who is ranked as the 10th best collegiate golfer in the country. He is joined by Jake Storey — who won the individual tournament hosted by the Georgia Southern course in February — as well as Archer Price and Brett Barron, who have also seen their names near the top of tournament leaderboards.

Rounding out the field is Crawford Simmons, who has likely spent more time on the grounds of Forest Heights than the rest of the tournament field combined.

A Statesboro native, Simmons took up golf at a young age, but also starred in baseball and spent a few years in the minor leagues after being drafted straight out of Statesboro High School. Following his baseball career, Simmons enrolled at Georgia Southern and joined the golf team. And now he’s played his way into the lineup for the premier event at his home course.

“I used to be one of the kids out here,” Simmons said as he gestured to the dozens of participants in Wednesday's children's clinic. “I used to come out to this tournament and look at the guys playing in it like they were Tiger Woods. It's really special that I get to play in this event and be one of those guys.”

The Eagles will be up against it if they want to compete for a title as a pair of top-10 squads in Vanderbilt (3) and Florida (8) are in the field. The rest of the field is also stout as the Eagles are currently just outside of the top-50 and only two teams in the tournament rank outside of the top 100 of 299 Division I men’s golf programs.

With the Schenkel normally occurring about a month from the end of the regular season and the run-up to NCAA regional qualification, it’s always the optimal time for the Eagles to test themselves against some of the best programs out there.

“This event means a lot to us,” Collins said. “Chad Avret and the committee do a great job of putting on this tournament every year. From a scheduling standpoint, it helps that teams love coming here and will reciprocate by inviting us to their events. But it really means a lot every year to get to play some of the best programs in the country on your home course.”

Play will begin around 9 a.m. this morning, with each team fielding five players. The top four scores will be added to the team total each day. Team pairings will be adjusted according to the overall standings on both Saturday and Sunday.