Some of the best talent in collegiate golf will assemble in Statesboro once again this week as Georgia Southern hosts the 34th annual Schenkel Invitational beginning today and running through Sunday at Forest Heights Country Club.
This year marks one of the most talented fields that the tournament has ever welcomed in. All but one of the 15 schools competing is ranked in the top-100 of the current Golfweek poll, including No. 2 Alabama — which is the defending Schenkel champion — and No. 4 Texas.
Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Vanderbilt will all take part, making this weekend a sort of preview for the Southeastern Conference championships. The College of Charleston is the only Southern Conference member other than Georgia Southern in this year’s tournament.
North Florida, Notre Dame, UAB, Maryland, North Texas, Central Florida and Virginia — which no longer has 2012 Schenkel individual medalist Ben Kohls — round out the field.
The stacked field will be a great chance for the Eagles — currently ranked 52nd in the country — to prove that they can play with the best teams in the nation.
Georgia Southern has been striking the ball well stretching all the way back to the beginning of the season in September. In eight events this season, the Eagles have won three while finishing seventh or better in all but one tournament.
“Last year, we had struggled a little bit heading into this tournament,” GSU coach Larry Mays said. “We built up a lot of experience last year that is paying off this year. Hopefully, we can use that and contend with the big boys.”
“A lot of people might not realize it, but we play these guys all of the time,” GSU’s Scot Wolfes said. “We feel like we can contend with them and winning our own tournament is always a big goal for us.”
It will be a challenge to post another great showing against the field at an event that has been dubbed “The Collegiate Championship of the East” by Golfworld, but the Eagles have the home course advantage.
“It’s a little bit of pressure to play well on your home course,” Mays said. “But it’s also a lot of fun. In other sports you have plenty of home games. We get one home game and play the rest on the road, so we want to make the most of it.”
Fans routinely make the most of the weekend as the spring weather and free admission always bring out great crowds. The Phi Mu sorority at GSU has its members host visiting teams at the dinner held the night before the tournament and serves as a cheering section on the course.
While many events bring little fanfare outside of friends and family, the Schenkel has developed a reputation for great spectator turnout and exciting roars coming from the crowd.
“The Schenkel is unique,” Mays said. “Not many other places get this kind of support that our program does. It kind of feels like a tour stop. You get some big roars on that final day when people make big shots on number 18. Hopefully there will be some Eagle roars coming down the stretch this year.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.