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33rd Annual Schenkel Invitational: Talent galore
031911 SCHENKEL file 1
In this March 19, 2011, file photo, Georgia Southern's Florian Sander lines up his putt on the fringe at the fifth hole during the second round of the Schenkel Invitational at Forest Heights Country Club. The three-round, par 72 tournament begins today and ends Sunday. The 14-team field includes four top-25 teams, and six teams in the top 30. Auburn returns after beating Florida in a playoff to win the tournament last year.

    Today, some of the best collegiate golf in the nation can be found just down the road.
    The 33rd Annual Schenkel Invitational will begin at 9 a.m. (tee times were not available) as the Georgia Southern golf team hosts 13 other schools at Forest Heights Country Club. Play runs through Sunday afternoon.
    “This is always a fun event,” GSU head coach Larry Mays said. “We always look forward to the Schenkel. It’s a privilege to be able to put on such a great tournament.”
    With a great venue and a history spanning more than three decades, the Schenkel has become quite a draw for the top teams in the country. Defending champion and current No. 2 in the nation Auburn tops the 2012 field, while Alabama (No. 3), North Florida (No. 15) and Florida (No. 23) are all in the national poll.
    Rounding out the field are Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Notre Dame, South Carolina, UAB, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
    Such prestigious programs in regular attendance also makes for an impressive list of tournament alumni. Successful PGA pros such as Bubba Watson, Camilo Villegas, Lucas Glover, and Georgia Southern’s Jodie Mudd have competed in the Schenkel over the years.
    “It’s awesome to be able to compete in a tournament with this kind of history,” GSU freshman Scott Wolfes said. “We face a lot of quality competition, but it will be even better getting to play against them on our home course.”
    “It definitely gives us a little bit more incentive to play well,” said Lewis Gruber, GSU's lone senior. “This is a course that everyone on this team has played a million times. Hopefully, that will give us a little bit of an edge and we can go out and play well.”
    Aside from the perks of knowing the course well, GSU enjoys a home-course advantage that few others get thanks to the support of the community. From huge crowds — admitted to watch the action for free — to corporate sponsors to the efforts of the GSU Phi Mu sorority sisters hosting visiting teams and helping with scorekeeping duties, the Schenkel has become an event that is looked forward to and fully embraced each year.
    “We’re very appreciative of the crowds and the atmosphere at this tournament,” Mays said. “The Schenkel always has one of the best environments that we see all season. Having so many supporters really helps and it prepares our guys for the environment that you usually only get in regionals.”
    For the Eagles, the Schenkel also serves as one of their final opportunities to prepare for a postseason run. After this weekend, GSU has only the Gary Koch Invitational in Tampa, Fla., on April 7-8 before the Southern Conference championships begin.
    The Eagles have had their moments this season, notching three top-five finishes and adding another top-10, but have also seen their young roster struggle at times. Mays and his squad hope that this weekend will serve as another step in the right direction.
    “It’s all about consistency,” Mays said. “We’ve got some experienced players and we’ve also got some very talented younger guys. I know that we can play well, but we have to have all of our guys performing well at the same time.”
    “This is going to be a big test for us,” Gruber said. “This is in front of our fans on our course against some tough teams. We’ve been up and down this season. Now is a great time to get out there and play our best.”
    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.