It’s an emotional weekend for Georgia Southern’s golf team, which is hosting the 33rd Annual Schenkel Invitational at Forest Heights Country Club.
Angela Sharkey, mother of former GSU golfer Thomas Sharkey, who died at age 21 in July, along with his 8-year-old sister, Bridget, after an early morning house fire at their home in Helensburgh, Scotland, traveled to Statesboro to visit with her son’s teammates.
Sharkey played in seven events for GSU last season. His best performance was at the Schenkel, where he shot a 3-under-par 69 in the second round. Saturday, in the second round of this year’s tournament, GSU players honored Sharkey by wearing Ribbons featuring his name on their caps. They also had patches with his initials on their golf bags.
“His mom was actually here,” said GSU’s Lewis Gruber, who shot 73 on Saturday. “She made the trip, and his cousin made the trip, from Scotland. I think it’s their first time in Statesboro. It’s been a lot of fun having them here. It’s been an emotional week for them. But it’s been really good.
"We’ve honored him at a couple of dinners. I think it’s been good for her to kind of have some closure on this side of it. And it’s been good for us to have her over here. It brings back some good memories.”
GSU is in 13th place (+12) going into today’s final round, which begins at 8 a.m. Alabama, which shot a tournament-record 20-under 268 on Friday, continues to lead after shooting 269 on Saturday. Alabama, with a two-day total of 537 (-39), had only one player shoot over par Saturday.
“Everybody knows they’re one of the best teams in the country this year,” GSU head coach Larry Mays said. “They’ve got three definite All-Americans, maybe three First-Team All-Americans, at the top of their lineup and they’re playing like it.”
Alabama’s Cory Whitsett shot 65, the low round of the day Saturday, after shooting 67 on Friday.
“I think the big thing for us, why we’ve had so much success, is because last week we were in Vegas and the golf course greens were really firm and difficult. And it’s just nice to get back to a golf course where the greens are a little softer, and you can just play more target golf," Whitsett said.
Whitsett is in second place (-12). He trails Virginia’s Ben Kohles, who leads with a 131 (-13). Auburn’s Blayne Barber (-11) is third.
Alabama’s Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt and Hunter Hamrick are in fourth (-10), fifth (-9) and sixth (-8), respectively.
Virginia is in second place after shooting a two-day total 558 (-18). Auburn is third at 559 (-17).
GSU is led by Blake Olson, who is tied for 31st and even for the tournament after shooting 71 on Saturday.
“We all can play a lot better,” Olson said. “And, hopefully, we can come out today and do it.”
GSU’s Scott Wolfes and Hayden Anderson are tied for 56th at 148 (+4). Gruber is tied for 69th (+6). Zach Hartman is tied for 74th (+7).
Playing individually, GSU’s Will Evans is tied for 25th (-1), Matt Mierzejewski is tied for 74th (+7) and Charlie Martin is in 81st place (+18).
“We shot a couple of shots better,” GSU’s Mays said. “We still didn’t play up to the level we need to be playing to compete in a field like this. But it’s better than yesterday. We’re not making enough birdies. We seemed a little tight starting out each round, and it cost us a few over par early."
“The course changes a little bit for tournament time. The greens don’t break quite the same because they’re faster and rolled down. But we play here enough we’re hitting some shots that we know not to hit."
GSU’s Gruber said the greens are very challenging.
“We know these greens better than anybody out here, and we should be able to putt them better than anybody," Gruber said. "So we’ve just got to trust in our games because we play out here every day.
“Those greens are hard to read. I think they’re hard to read for everybody. They’re quick. They’re undulating. And when you get that, speed can be a problem."
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.