Entering this past weekend, the Georgia Southern golf team had won two Schenkel Invitational tournaments and had been on the top of the leader boards a number of times after the first day. What that had yet to do was go wire-to-wire. That all changed this weekend as after putting themselves up by 10 strokes after Saturday’s round the Eagles were able to cruise home Sunday for their third title in the 42nd playing of the event.
A beautiful few days of weather saw record crowds on the grounds at Forest Heights Country Club for the annual event which typically ushers in the spring. The majority of the crowd followed the home team throughout the three days and according to coaches and players was a major factor in the Eagles coming out on top.
“Statesboro was incredible this week,” said Eagle coach Carter Collins. “The energy and support that came from the community of Statesboro and Forest Heights was incredible. It made an unbelievable impression on not only the Eagles but every other visiting team here and I want to thank Statesboro for all that they did.”
Eagle senior Mason Williams placed second individually with a three-day total of 10 under par. Williams credited the atmosphere and fans on hand for helping to pull the team through to a victory.
“The Statesboro community was awesome this week,” said Williams. “This is the most fun tournament I have ever played in. I think it was great that we went wire-to-wire and I don’t think we could have done it without the support of the people around Statesboro. I cannot wait to come back for another year of this next season.”
Fellow senior Ben Carr will be returning for another season at Georgia Southern as well. Carr battled it out for top individual honors as well before finally finishing third at eight under par.
“Having the support of the community and our fans there is no other tournament like the Schenkel,” said Carr. “We are very blessed to have the fans that we do. Having the crowds out there is just so different. I know the professionals are used to it but for us it is a little different, but you also feed off the energy of them pulling for us.”
Williams and Carr both heard plenty of roars from the crowd throughout their three days playing and both think that is something they will always remember.
“Hearing that is just so special,” said Carr. “I don’t know about others but it almost makes my body feel numb. I have a lot of trouble getting my ball out of the hole because I’m just so fired up and have chills going down my spine. It’s a fun feeling.”
“On the ninth hole on the first day when I made eagle the sound just sent a chill down my spine,” said Williams. "I made the 15-foot eagle and it was almost deafening. It was one of the coolest things I have experienced on the golf course and I will remember that for a long time.”
The Eagles finished day one with a 10-stroke lead over three other teams. Saturday they were able to maintain the 10-shot lead over Kentucky who made a charge with the low round of the day moving up five places. Sunday Notre Dame made a run, but the Eagles had all five members of the team shoot even par or better to secure the win.
“For all five starters to be at par or better today is incredible,” said Collins. “Considering the pressure that comes with leading and with playing this event on our home course. We knew this would be tough but they handled it well and I am just so proud of them.”
While the top two scores were turned in by seniors with plenty of knowledge of the course and the event, the Eagles wouldn’t have been able to win the championship without the play of a couple of freshmen playing their first Schenkel. Brantley Baker placed 12th with a three-day total of three under par while fellow freshman Hogan Ingram tied for 23rd at one over par.
“We had a couple of guys in Brantley and Hogan who had never been in this situation,” said Collins. “I’d be lying if I said I was sure how they would handle it. I had a good idea, and they handled it unbelievably.”
The individual medalist title went to the College of Charleston’s Kieron van Wyk who finished the three days with an impressive 12 under par in winning his first ever collegiate tournament. The South African native also hoisted a championship trophy for the first time on U.S. soil.
“I am a freshman so this is my first title in the U.S. so, this is very special,” said van Wyk. “I found that I scored really well around the greens. I have struggled a little putting but I did really well this week. Scoring around the greens was essential this week given that the greens are so small. The crowds were great and it was fun to have people around us for a change.”
Senior Wilson Andress rebounded from a tough first day shooting one under par during his 36 holes over the weekend. Sophomore Luke Dasher led the way for the Eagle golfers who were playing as individuals as he was 17th shooting a three-day total of one under par. Colin Bowles and Lindsey Cordell saved their best for last with Bowles shooting two under Sunday and Cordell shot a 71. Ian Glanton placed tied for 72nd and Jack Boltja was tied for 81st.
Tournament committee chair Chad Avret was quite pleased with the fan turnout as well as the team who walked away with the title.
"Certainly, we do a lot of planning but there is one thing that we can't control and that is who comes out on top at the Schenkel," said Avret. "We are pumped that the Eagles were able to bring another championship home. We can't say enough about the support the fans gave us all three day. They have been supporting this event since 1971 when it started and we can't thank them enough. Our committee puts a lot into making this a first-class event and it's great to hear the kind of feedback we get from other coaches who tell us all the time it's the best tournament in college golf."
Next up for the Eagles is a visit to The Hayt at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. March 28-29.